Obama urges global efforts to stop spread of nuke weapons

by Takehiko Kajita

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for worldwide efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons in a bid to eventually create a world without them.

In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly since taking office in January, Obama also warned North Korea and Iran over their nuclear ambitions.

''We must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them,'' he said. ''The threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity.''

''If we fail to act, we will invite a nuclear arms race in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine,'' the U.S. leader warned.

Obama singled out North Korea and Iran as the countries that pose immediate proliferation threats through their nuclear programs, and urged them to listen to the voices of the international community and abandon their nuclear programs.

''In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope,'' he said.

''We respect their rights as members of the community of nations. I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and a more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations,'' Obama said.

''But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East -- then they must be held accountable,'' he said.

Furthermore, Obama vowed maximum efforts to tackle climate change, urging the international community to take prompt action to do so.

''The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied, and our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders,'' he said.

The U.S. president touted Washington's efforts to confront climate change, including investing $80 billion in clean energy, substantially raising U.S. fuel-efficiency standards and leading international climate negotiations.

On the economic front, Obama pledged that the United States will strive to achieve balanced and sustained growth at a financial summit in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday of the Group of 20 major developed and emerging nations.

''In Pittsburgh, we will work with the world's largest economies to chart a course for growth that is balanced and sustained,'' he said.

''That means vigilance to ensure that we do not let up until our people are back to work. That means taking steps to rekindle demand, so that a global recovery can be sustained.''

''And that means setting new rules of the road and strengthening regulation for all financial centers, so that we put an end to the greed, excess and abuse that led us into disaster, and prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again,'' he said.

Obama also made a strong call for fresh efforts to hammer out a Middle East accord that creates a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

In other parts of his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama called on global leaders to work together to solve the world's most pressing problems.

''Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone,'' he said.

''Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction,'' he said. ''We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect and our work must begin now.''

Obama had some stinging words for the United Nations, saying ''Sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground.''

''After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and to point fingers and stoke division. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions,'' he said.

But the U.S. leader also pledged Washington's commitment to work with the United Nations in shaping a better common future for all.

''The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation -- one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations,'' Obama said.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Sept. 23, 2009)