Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama at the UN

Our President had a busy day yesterday, taking on two major issues.  The first is climate change.

Obama-Cincinnati "In a historic address to the world today at the U. N. Climate Summit, President Barack Obama acknowledged what no other U.S. president has acknowledged before: That the United States has not been living up to its historical responsibility to respond to climate change: “It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day.” In another first he acknowledged that developed countries like the United States “caused much of the damage to our climate” and “have a responsibility to lead.”

This was welcome news to the assembled delegates who received the clearest statement yet of America’s return to the global discussion on addressing our world’s biggest challenge.

Two new announcements stand out from the address.

First, that the United States will embark on a first ever program to track the amount of greenhouse gas pollution emitted throughout the country. The president made this announcement just moments prior to the EPA announcing a new reporting rule to establish an economy-wide program to monitor emissions covering approximately 13,000 large facilities accounting for 85 to 90 percent of U.S. emissions. This program would establish a critical baseline necessary to measure future success for domestic emission reduction programs. It would also go further to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we will have the capacity to measure, report, and verify our reductions, just as we expect developing countries to do eventually.

Second, that the United States will propose a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies at the G-20 meeting later this week in Pittsburgh, PA. This idea was originally floated in a letter to colleagues by White House G-20 leader Michael Froman on September 3 arguing that moving to an elimination of fossil fuel and electricity subsidies would “help energy markets work better and improve our energy efficiency.” While this letter was made public in the press last week the president’s speech today was the first official acknowledgment of this move. Though no details of this proposal are yet public suggestions are for eliminating non-needs based subsidies as well as providing assistance to non G-20 countries who take complimentary steps to reduce their subsidies as well. Both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency estimate that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would reduce global emissions in 2050 by 10 percent. Raising this proposal at a forum that includes Saudi Arabia is a bold and unexpected move."

Read transcript of President Obama's speech here. [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Center for American Progress>

Obama demonstrated bold leadership for which I commend him.  Sadly, the Senate’s decision to put off climate change until next year sends a weak signal to other nations, who will question whether they can depend on the US to follow Obama’s plan.

The second issue is Middle East peace.

mideast-peace President Barack Obama may be laying the groundwork to abandon his quest for an immediate Israeli settlement freeze and instead try to get Israel and the Palestinians directly into peace negotiations.

Obama emerged from talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Tuesday without the orchestrated set of steps that he had hoped would allow him to announce a resumption of peace negotiations, which have been on ice since December.

Instead, he was reduced to stressing the urgency of ending the six-decade conflict and exhorting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to show "flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise."

The outcome, analysts said, suggested the limitations of trying to secure confidence-building steps in advance and may presage a drive to go directly to full-blown negotiations even though neither side yet seems ready for them.

"It's clearly a lost cause," Daniel Kurtzer, a retired U.S. diplomat who now teaches at Princeton University, said of Obama's effort to get Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to make reciprocal gestures before the resumption of talks.

Washington wanted Israel to halt all building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East War. It also wanted the Palestinians to do more to prevent violence against Israelis and Arab nations to take steps toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

None of these were in place as Obama met Netanyahu and Abbas first separately and then in a trilateral meeting, the highest-level talks between the two sides in nearly a year.

Both sides are at odds over a starting point for any future negotiations on core issues such as the borders and the future of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state.

Inserted from <Reuters>

I think Obama is correct to try to bet  them talking without preconditions.  It’s better than not talking at all.  However, I still see no chance of peace unless Israel stops building settlements in Palestinian territory.  I don’t see Israel doing that without a very hard line from Obama.  If the situation continues, eventually the takeover of Palestinian territory by Israel will eventually become a fait accompli.   I think that’s exactly what Israel wants.  Obama must make settlement building so costly to Israel that ceasing the construction and negotiating in good faith becomes attractive.


the walking man said...

Stop paying Israel 3 billion a year and start charging them for the weapons and spare parts we have given them and they may sing a different song. Charge them for the defensive posture we have provided them and the tune may change.

TomCat said...

Mark, that's exactly my point.

The Moose said...

AIPAC will not let him do that.

1) AIPAC is always right.
2) If AIPAC is wrong, see rule #1

TomCat said...

Moose, that's sure the status quo.


Agree with the Walking Man.

The US is virtually financing the entire Israeli war/defence machinery -- why can't the US make them toe the line is beyond me.

Israel is fast losing the sympathy and goodwill it paid so dearly for (Holocaust) with their unjust policies vis a vis Palestine and the Palestinian people.

TomCat said...

Good point, HB. It has always befuddled me that a people so victimized over the centuries would be so willing to do so to others.