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'No shortcut' to peace in Middle East, says Obama

Welcomed with great applause, US President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in New York. His speech focused on the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world and the Palestinian bid for statehood.

US President Barack Obama speaks during the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly

Obama said there was no 'shortcut' to Middle East peace

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama said the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was a test for US foreign policy.

"I believe that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own," said Obama. However, in an effort to forestall a unilateral, Palestinian drive for UN statehood recognition he asserted "genuine peace" could only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

"Despite extensive efforts by America and others, parties have not bridged their differences," he said. "I know many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I."

The US president stressed there was "no shortcut" to ending the conflict that has endured for decades.

"Peace is hard work," he said. "Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side." He said it was up to the two sides to reach agreement on issues such as borders and Jerusalem, and that this was dependent on compromise.

Though the US was in favor of a sovereign Palestinian state, Obama stressed its ties to Israel.

"America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable," he said. "Any lasting peace must ensure these security concerns that Israel faces every day." He said the US wanted to continue to encourage both sides to sit down and negotiate.

"That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts," he said. "That is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks to come."

Obama's Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas was expected to announce a formal request for statehood recognition on Friday when he speaks to the UN General Assembly.

As a permanent member with veto power, the US is expected to veto the bid in the Security Council. The European Union is split on the issue, with Germany and France against a unilateral bid by the Palestinians.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed Obama's speech on Wednesday, saying "there will only be lasting peace through negotiations, not confrontation." But he did not say how Germany would vote in the Security Council, should Abbas apply for full membership.

Changes in the Arab world

Obama's opening speech at the annual UN General assembly then turned to the Syria as he called on the Security Council to sanction the Syrian government over its brutal crackdowns against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly

Abbas has faced US pressure to drop his bid for UN statehood recognition

"For the sake of Syria and the peace and security for the world, we must speak with one voice," Obama told the Assembly. "There is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime and to stand with the Syrian people. We have to respond to the calls for change."

He praised the advances in democracy achieved across much of the Arab world earlier this year. He said the US was pleased with developments in Bahrain, but that there was more work to be done to ensure "peaceful change."

In the case of Yemen, he stressed US support for the people's aspirations for a transition of power and free and fair elections as soon as possible.

"The US will continue to support those nations on the road to democracy," Obama said.

Brazil voices support for Palestinians

Obama's speech followed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the first "woman voice," as she put it, to have opened the Assembly in UN history.

Rousseff said Brazil wants to see Palestine's "full representation" at the United Nations.

"Only a free and sovereign Palestine will be able to respond to Israel's legitimate desires for peace, security inside its borders, and political stability in its region," she said. Brazil is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Author: Sabina Casagrande, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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