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Obama And Romney Address U.S. Foreign Policy

Sep 25, 2012

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

Earlier today, both of the major party candidates for president spoke on foreign policy in New York. Former Governor Mitt Romney at the Clinton Global Initiative and President Barack Obama before the General Assembly of the United Nations. We're going to play back substantial excerpts from both. Governor Romney spoke first after an introduction by the former president who delivered a well-received speech on behalf of his opponent at the Democratic National Convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to be here this morning, and I appreciate your kind words and that introduction is very touching. If there's one thing we've learned this election season, by the way, it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good.

ROMNEY: All I got to do now is wait a couple of days for that bounce to happen so...

CONAN: In this setting, Governor Romney focused on how foreign aid and free enterprise could lift many in the developing world out of poverty, but at least obliquely he referred to recent criticisms of the president for weak leadership that's allowed events to spiral out of control.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: A lot of Americans, including myself, are developed - or, excuse me, are troubled by the developments in the Middle East. Syria has witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our Ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. We somehow feel that we're at the mercy of events rather than shaping events. I'm often asked, why? What can we do with - do about it to lead the Middle East to stability and to ease the suffering and the anger and the hate there, and the violence?

Obviously, religious extremism is certainly part of the problem, but that's not the whole story. The population of the Middle East is very young, as you know, particularly in comparison with the population of the developed nations. And typically, these young people, as the president indicated a moment ago, don't have a lot of job prospects. The levels of youth unemployment across the region are excessive and chronic. And in nations that have undergone a change in leadership recently, young people have greater access to information. In the past, that was being carefully guarded by tyrants and dictators, but now it's available.

They see the good as well as the bad in surrounding societies. They can now organize across vast regions, mobilizing populations. Idle, humiliated by poverty and crushed by government corruption, their frustration and their anger grows. In such a setting, for America to actually change lives, to change communities and nations in the Middle East, foreign aid must also play a role. And the shape that role should play was brought into focus by the life and death of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, that street vendor who self-immolated and who sparked, thereby, the Arab Spring.

CONAN: Governor Romney then outlined a proposal he called Prosperity Pact. As president, he said, he would work with the private sector to identify barriers to investment, trade and entrepreneurship in developing nations. And he noted sometimes stark differences in rich and poor countries right next to each other, like North and South Korea.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: I became convinced that the critical difference between these countries wasn't geography. I noticed the most successful countries shared something in common. They were the freest. They protected the rights of individuals. They enforced the rule of law. They encouraged and enterprise. They understood that economic freedom is the only force in history that has consistently lifted people out of poverty and kept people out of poverty. Look, a temporary aid package can give an economy a boost.

ROMNEY: It can fund projects. It can pay some bills. It can employ some people for a time. But it can't sustain an economy, not for the long term. It can't pull the whole cart, if you will, because at some point, the money runs out. But an assistance program that helps unleash free enterprise can create enduring prosperity.

CONAN: Near the end of his remarks, Governor Romney referred to probably his biggest difference with the president: Iran's nuclear ambitions. And he noted that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had again spoken about the elimination of Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: Today, we face a world with unprecedented challenges and complexities. We should not forget and cannot forget that not far from here, a voice of unspeakable evil and hatred has spoken out, threatening Israel and the entire civilized world. But we come together knowing that the bitterness of hate is no match for the strength of love.

CONAN: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The speaker was at the Clinton Global Initiative, and they focus, of course, on development in the Third World. In that context, Governor Romney was speaking largely about development, foreign aid and free enterprise. Nearby, before a very different audience, President Obama delivered his annual address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He begin by talking about the life and contributions of Chris Stevens, one of the four Americans killed in Libya two weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The attacks on the civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and from the Libyan people. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. And I also appreciate that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the region - including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen - have taken steps to secure our diplomatic facilities and called for calm, and so have religious authorities around the globe.

But understand, the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded: the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully, that diplomacy can take the place of war, that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.

If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy or to put out statements of regret and wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis, because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.

Today, we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.

CONAN: Among those ideals, the president said later, freedom of speech that covers even what he described as a crude and disgusting video.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: I know there are some who ask: Why we don't just ban such a video? The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.

APPLAUSE

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.

We do so because, in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression. It is more speech: the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

CONAN: The president criticized President Assad of Syria as a dictator who murders his own people. And then he turned to Iran, which he said props up the regime in Damascus, supports terrorist groups abroad and has profoundly failed to meet its obligation to show that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: So let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.

Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That's why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that's why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

CONAN: You can hear more on today's speeches by Mitt Romney and President Obama later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.