Obama touches on Iran, Afghanistan as he outlines U.S. foreign policy priorities

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Barack Obama expressed opposition to new sanctions on Iran and pledged to press ahead with the planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as he outlined his foreign policies priorities in his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday.

Addressing a joint session of Congress’ two chambers, Obama reiterated he would veto any new sanctions bill against Iran while world powers negotiated with Tehran on a comprehensive deal on its nuclear programs.  

As the United States wound down its military role in Afghanistan, he challenged the Afghan government to sign a security pact allowing for a limited American military presence in the country. 

Obama also warned the threat of al-Qaida had evolved, with its affiliates and other extremists taking root in different parts of the world, highlighting hotspots such as Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali. 

In “a world of complex threats,” the president promised to seek diplomatic means to ensure U.S. leadership and security, expressing his opposition to large-scale military deployments overseas.

Obama also vowed to continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, where the United States seeks to support its allies and shape a future of “greater security and prosperity.” 

“GIVE DIPLOMACY A CHANCE”

Since world powers reached a landmark interim nuclear deal with Iran in November last year, Obama has on a number of occasions urged Congress to refrain from imposing new sanctions on the Islamic republic for fear of torpedoing delicate talks on a final accord.

“If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” Obama said Tuesday.  

He called on lawmakers to “give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” saying it was diplomacy, backed by pressure, that had halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled parts of it back for the first time in a decade.  

If Iran’s leaders did not seize the opportunity of negotiations, Obama said, he would be the first to call for more sanctions and stand ready to “exercise all options” to make sure Iran did not build a nuclear weapon.  

The president also admitted the talks would be “difficult” and “may not succeed,” as the mistrust between the United States and Iran “cannot be wished away.”

Any long-term deal on Iran’s nuclear program must be based on verifiable action that convinced Washington and the international community Tehran was not building a nuclear bomb, Obama said.

“If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today,” he added. 

“WAR WILL FINALLY BE OVER” 

Obama pledged to press ahead with the planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year.  

“Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over,” the president said.

“If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies,” he said.  

The Obama administration threatened to pull out all American troops at the end of the year after Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that allows for and grants legal immunity to residual American troops, who will be tasked with training and assisting Afghan forces, as well as conducting counter-terrorism operations beyond 2014. 

“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future,” Obama said. 

Obama ordered all U.S. forces to leave Iraq in late 2011 after Baghdad failed to ink a similar security pact with Washington. Karzai has set new conditions for his signing of the deal, including a Washington promise not to allow its forces to conduct counter-terrorism raids on Afghan homes, and an agreement to free Afghan prisoners held at the U.S. Guantanamo prison.  

Other episodes, among them Kabul’s release of prisoners seen as “dangerous criminals” by Washington, have contributed to chilled bilateral relations. 

“MOVE OFF A PERMANENT WAR FOOTING” 

In his address, Obama also underscored the importance of diplomacy in resolving some of the world’s toughest problems and voiced his opposition to large-scale military deployments overseas.  

“We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism,” Obama said.  

“I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary,” the president said. 

As commander-in-chief, Obama said, he had used force to protect the American people and would never hesitate to do so during his office, but he said he strongly believed “our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone.”

“Even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks …America must move off a permanent war footing,” he said.

Obama hailed U.S. diplomacy as a strong force behind the country’s security and leadership, contending it was through diplomatic means that Syria’s chemical weapons were being eliminated and Iran’s nuclear program had been halted. 

“In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power — including strong and principled diplomacy,” the president said.  

Obama also called on Congress to lift restrictions on transferring detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay so it could be closed this year.

“We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world,” he said.

By Shanghai Daily

 

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