In a blunt challenge to his nation's critics, President Barack Obama says world leaders who once accused the United States of acting alone must now join with him to solve global crises rather than "wait for America" to lead.
It is Obama's first address to the U.N. General Assembly, and he is seeking to set a new tone in U.S. relations — one that separates his administration from the unilateralism of his predecessor, George W. Bush, which alienated many nations.
"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 said in White House excerpts of the address that carried a remarkably blunt tone.
In essence, Obama's message is that he expects plenty in return for reaching out.
"We have sought in word and deed a new era of engagement with the world," Obama said, echoing the cooperative theme he promised as a candidate and has since used as a pillar of his foreign policy. "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility."
He said if the world is honest with itself, it has fallen woefully short.
"Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world," Obama said. "Protracted conflicts that grind on and on. Genocide and mass atrocities. More and more nations with nuclear weapons. Melting ice caps and ravaged populations. Persistent poverty and pandemic disease."
The president added, "I say this not to sow fear, but to state a fact: the magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our action."
Obama's speech is the centerpiece of a day in which he was also holding pivotal meetings with the new Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Immersed in a packed agenda here, Obama foreshadowed his message to world leaders in a speech Tuesday to the Clinton Global Initiative. He spoke of nations interconnected by problems, whether a flu strain or an economic collapse or a drug trade that crosses borders.
"Just as no nation can wall itself off from the world, no one nation — no matter how large, no matter how powerful — can meet these challenges alone," Obama said.
While that point is hardly new, it is sharper because of the political context. Obama follows Bush, who at times questioned the U.N.'s toughness and credibility, particularly in containing Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The U.S.-U.N. relationship wilted.
Obama's team is intent on drawing the contrast.
"The United States has dramatically changed the tone, the substance and the practice of our diplomacy at the United Nations," said Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the U.N.
But multilateralism has its limits, particularly as national interests collide.
While other world leaders could push for Mideast peace, it was Obama who personally intervened in pulling together the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday. He showed some impatience as both sides have been stalled over familiar issues.
The good-will feeling of Obama's fresh government is apparent at the United Nations.
But eight months into his presidency, the problems he inherited are now his own, upping expectations for results. His White House is being pressed to right the war in Afghanistan. And his efforts toward diplomacy with adversaries, chiefly Iran and North Korea, are not meant to be open-ended.
Obama's day starts with his meeting with Hatoyama, who has said he wants to shift Japan's diplomatic stance from one that is less centered on Washington's lead.
Later, Obama was meeting with Medvedev. That session comes just days following Obama's decision to abruptly scrap a Bush-era missile defense plan that Russia deeply opposed, swapping it for a proposal the U.S. says better targets any launch by Iran.
Russian leaders rejoiced over Obama's move, but he dismissed any role Russia may have played and called it just a bonus if the country is now less "paranoid" about the U.S.