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Context of 'September 23, 2009: President Barack Obama Delivers Inaugural Address at the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly'

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Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251-255]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John R. Bolton, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Martin Indyk, US Department of State, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

In his first speech to the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, President Obama says all nations bear responsibility for addressing the global problems of nuclear proliferation, war, climate change, and economic crises. “We must build new coalitions that bridge old divides,” Obama says. “All nations have rights and responsibilities—that’s the bargain that makes [the UN] work.” Obama acknowledges that high expectations accompanying his presidency are “not about me,” adding that when he took office at the beginning of the year: “Many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and mistrust. No world order which elevates one nation above others can succeed in tackling the world’s 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.” Obama devotes a considerable portion of his speech to discussing the challenges inherent in finding a peaceful solution to settlements in the Middle East. He calls for the resumption of Israel-Palestine negotiations “without preconditions,” and also uses his speech to indicate that the US has returned to the global arena as a team player.
Warm but Restrained Reception - Although warmly received, applause appears slightly restrained, perhaps an indication that expectations for the Obama presidency are becoming more realistic, given the global problems with which most nations now struggle. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opens the 64th Session’s proceedings by saying, “Now is the time to put ‘united’ back into the United Nations.”
Followed by Libyan Leader - Libya’s President Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi follows Obama and speaks for over an hour, vehemently criticizing the UN’s power structure as uneven, archaic, and unjust. From a copy of the preamble to the UN Charter, al-Qadhafi reads: “It says nations are equal whether they are small or big—are we equal in the permanent seats? No, we are not equal. Do we have the rights of the veto? All nations should have an equal footing. For those who have a permanent seat, this is political feudalism. It shouldn’t be called the Security Council; it should be called the Terror Council.” Despite reigning in Libya for over 40 years, this is al-Qadhafi’s first UN General Assembly speech. [BBC, 9/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Libya, Ban Ki-Moon, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, United Nations, United Nations Security Council, United States, Israel, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets.Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty]Eleven people, including seven United Nations officials, are slain in Afghanistan following a protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Some press reports say 12 are killed.) The protest was spurred by the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011) and a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemning the burning (see March 31, 2011 and After). The attack is the worst incident on record against the UN since the conflict began in 2001. The protest begins peacefully, but turns violent after Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli tells the crowd of some 20,000 that multiple Korans had been burned, and they must protest in a call for Jones to be arrested. Otherwise, says Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the US. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he says. The infuriated crowd marches on the nearby UN compound, ignoring guards who at first fire their AK-47s into the air and then into the crowd. Four or five crowd members are killed before the guards are overwhelmed (press reports differ on the number of protesters slain). Crowd members take the guards’ weapons and turn them on people in the UN compound. Four UN guards from Nepal and three foreign workers from Norway, Romania, and Sweden are killed, along with four non-UN victims. One Afghan is arrested for leading the attack. General Abdul Rauf Taj, the deputy police commander for Balkh Province, says, “Police tried to stop them, but protesters began stoning the building, and finally the situation got out of control.” Kieran Dwyer of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says, “Some of our colleagues were just hunted down” by angry protesters, who also burn and vandalize the building. [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
Early Reports of Two Beheadings - Early press reports indicate that two of the seven slain UN personnel are beheaded, but Afghan authorities later deny these reports. [New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] An early report from the Christian Science Monitor says that 20 UN staffers have been killed. Later press reports do not include this number. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011]
Pastor Blames Muslims for Deaths - An unrepentant Jones calls on the US government and the international community to respond, saying in a statement: “We… find this a very tragic and criminal action. The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action. We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability.… They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.” Pegeen Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville, Florida, where Jones lives and works, says that most in the Gainesville community do not support Jones. “He’s a really fringy character,” Hanrahan says. “For every one person in Gainesville who thinks this is a good idea there are a thousand who just think it’s ridiculous.” Jacki Levine of the Gainesville Sun newspaper says of Jones: “He’s a person who has a congregation that’s exceedingly small, maybe 30 or 40 people—50 on a good day. He is not at all reflective of community he finds himself in.”
Condemnations, Warnings that Further Attacks May Take Place - President Obama condemns the attack, saying: “The brave men and women of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people. Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.” Obama was sharply critical of Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran (see September 10, 2010). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoes Obama’s sentiments, saying, “This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Ulema Council member Mullah Kashaf says of Jones: “We expressed our deep concerns about this act, and we were expecting the violence that we are witnessing now. Unless they try him and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world.” [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] Although Jones and his fellow church members deny any responsibility for the attacks, others disagree. One woman who lives near Jones’s church shakes her head in regret after being told of the Koran-burning, and says, in reference to Jones and the attack, “All because of him.” Gainseville Mayor Craig Lowe says: “Terry Jones and his followers were well aware their actions could trigger these kinds of events. It’s important that the world and nation know that this particular individual and these actions are not representative of our community.” Jones’s son Luke, a youth pastor at the church, says: “We absolutely do not feel responsible for it. You’re trying to avoid the real problem and blame someone.” The “real problem” is Islamic extremism, Luke Jones says, a stance he says is proven by the day’s attack. “The world can see how violent this religion—parts of this religion—can be.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Shah Adeli, Christian Science Monitor, Craig Lowe, Hamid Karzai, Jacki Levine, Barack Obama, Luke Jones, Kieran Dwyer, Abdul Rauf Taj, Mullah Kashaf, Ban Ki-Moon, Pegeen Hanrahan, United Nations, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

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