Zakaria: Obama's U.N. speech very intelligent
September 24th, 2013
02:44 PM ET

Zakaria: Obama's U.N. speech very intelligent

CNN speaks with Fareed about President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations, and what it says about U.S.-Iran ties.

Obama said: "We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course given President Rouhani's stated commitment to reach an agreement. I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in coordination with others."

That was a significant development given the long three decades history between these two countries.

It was a significant development. And he pointed out that they had heard encouraging words from the Supreme Leader, from the president. He also reciprocated by talking about how he wanted to deal with Iran with mutual respect. This is a phrase that Iranians have often used. I think it was carefully chosen by the president.

The Iranians have often said we want you to treat us with respect. We don't like the idea of being told, for example, that there are carrots and sticks as part of the policy. We are not an animal. We are a great nation. So Obama tried, it seemed to me, to mirror the kind of language the Iranians want to hear that accords them some respect.

What I was struck by was this was not a speech, though, designed to make headlines. Both the things you pointed out were the parts that made news, but by and large it was really using the bully pulpit of the United Nations to educate people about what America's policy and what its interests are, particularly in the Middle East. He laid it out methodically, acknowledging criticism, reminding people why the United States had done certain things in Egypt, done certain things in Libya.

And in that sense, [Obama] sort of took on the role that he has often taken on which is a kind of "explainer in chief," and did it very well. I thought it was a very intelligent speech. He laid out the ground work.

More from GPS: Why Obama shouldn't talk to Rouhani

It also reminded us that the president actually has a pretty ambitious agenda. You know if you think of the three things he talked about really – Syria, Iran and the Middle East peace process. Syria is a crisis thrust upon the administration, thrust upon the world. But the other two were choices made by the Obama administration to pursue some kind of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran and to try to resolve the Arab-Israeli peace process. If there's movement on all three fronts, maybe he will end up deserving that Noble Peace Prize that he was awarded.

A lot of U.S. analysts have suggested that, if there is a breakthrough, and potentially there could be a breakthrough between the U.S. and Iran right now, the international sanctions led by the U.S. have really made a dent on the life of the people of Iran, and maybe that's going to be a major factor in convincing the Iranian people and President Rouhani that maybe it's time for a change.

There’s no question that that has played a huge role. The White House did an internal study where they tried to understand Iranian behavior over the last 30 years, and they found that the Iranians moved and were more conciliatory. But almost always when they faced pressure that it was actually a rational behavior, but you had to pressure them.

And so they put together this very impressive international set of sanctions. That's why they took it through the U.N. Now here's the twist – the sanctions have been put in place by law, by Congress. The president does not have the ability to unilaterally waive those sanctions.

So if the Iranians start complying, doing the kinds of things he's talking about – transparency, verifiable acts – he actually doesn't have the ability to deliver the carrots, if one may call them that, to the Iranians.

So he's now going to be placed in a very awkward position where he can encourage this process, but it's not clear that he can actually…we all worry about Rouhani being able to deliver. The Iranians, I'm sure very smart about this, are wondering whether Obama can deliver.

On the edges, he does have a little flexibility, but you're right. Congress did pass laws that, in effect, will tie his hands to a certain degree. But on the edges, he's already, without a lot of publicity the last few weeks, he's eased some visits for athletes, some exchanges, cultural exchanges. But obviously the financial sanctions, the banking sanctions, those are going to require legislation, and you're right. There could be a fight in Congress.

Especially with this Congress. Remember, it has to go through the House.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Iran • United Nations

soundoff (316 Responses)
  1. boungiorno

    My advice is PRAY GOD WILL HEAR US!

    September 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • jesse

      shut up

      September 24, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Reply
      • STFUplease

        No, no, no, you shut up. Dim Wit.

        September 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Fareed, the problem is that Netanyahu sees Rouhani a "sheep in wolf's clothing". The pro-Israel lobbyists in the Congress would block any effort for a détente. Saudi Arabia competes with Iran for regional hegemony. The Saudi Wahabis see Shia Muslims as heretics. Many in the Congress might not be ready to sacrifice their relationship with Saudi Arabia for a rapprochement with Iran.

        September 25, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • godisfake

      Yeah ... the will work (eyes rolling)

      September 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Reply
      • thomas

        Why not, it has worked for 237 years.

        September 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
      • NottuReligious

        Actually I do believe in the power of prayer, but I think there are two kinds of prayer. One is where you look up pleadingly and recite some ancient incantation or verse. The other is to get off of your duff and make the things that you want to happen happen.

        Let's say you wanted an apricot tree in your backyard. Here are 2 ways to pray to god for that tree.

        1) Sit at the spot. Light a candle. Wear a beanie if you want. Hold a holy book. Say, 'god and god of our fathers, we thank you for food, and for killing those we disagree with. Please give us a tree.'

        2) You thank god for making apricots so you dig a fine hole, prepare the soil and plant the tree. Yee-hah, you have a tree.

        Solution 1 appeals to those who look to ancient writings for solutions to life's problems. Solution 2 is an actual solution.

        September 25, 2013 at 2:29 am |
    • Steel On Target

      What god?

      September 25, 2013 at 12:47 am | Reply
    • NottuReligious

      I say Jesus is coming so grab your umbrella.

      September 25, 2013 at 2:24 am | Reply
    • Howard

      If there is a god, and he really does want there to be peace, it won't matter whether you pray. Unfortunately, he can't intervene to cause humans to alter the course of their own events. If he did, that would refute his gift to humans of "free will." And it would be an admission that free will was a mistake, except that god can't make mistakes.

      Ergo, if you believe god invested humans with free will, then praying to him to influence human events is a waste of time ... or a denial of your basic belief in free will.

      September 25, 2013 at 5:30 am | Reply
    • Gia

      God already did that's why we have President Obama!

      September 25, 2013 at 6:33 am | Reply
    • Mr. Black

      So, your advice is to do nothing?

      September 25, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
  2. howardfeinski

    Hm, methinks he praiseth too much.

    September 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  3. boungiorno

    grow up howard

    September 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • godisfake

      Given how much religion has contributed to ensuring such a peaceful world, this can't miss.

      September 24, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Reply
      • thomas

        Silly statement. I few out of place religious nuts can't take away from the thousands of years and Trillions of charitable acts that people have done in the name of religion over the years. Not even close.

        September 24, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
      • Say wha?

        Yeah, Thomas is so right; the English Crusaders, the KKK, Nazis provided the world with the most charitable acts their religion could offer.

        September 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Truthplease

    Zakaria is a CONSULTANT FOR OBAMA. How does his look like journalism or even an op piece. This is black ops at best...

    September 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • Sam

      Actually, Zakaria has openly criticized Obama such as his teams handling of Syria:

      September 25, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
  5. Raj

    The only way to have peace in Mid East is start a dialogue. We have tried the war path and that hasn't gotten us anywhere. As long as we have moderate governments that we are dealing with. If Iran stops supporting terrorism and wants to start a dialogue, it is a smart move. I know some Americans want to be macho and bomb everything in sight and has not work and will not work.

    September 24, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
    • TK

      I hope Obamas peaceful approach works, but deep down, I know it won't. I think the next president will have to deal with Iran after they see the peaceful approach did not work.

      September 24, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Reply
    • TK

      Iran will never end their supprt for killing Americans and Jews. The only way is if the entire Iran goverfnemt and military had no control and the younger generation was in charge.

      September 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
    • maryam

      Agree with Farid, and knowing Iranian PEOPLE well, who are far different than Arabs and many of them are very much more like westerners. Majority of Americans arent for war, unless its to protect the people. Sometimes when you have terrorism in other parts of the world, especially radical Islamic ones who have a world caliphate agenda, you must stop the fire so it doesnt spread. Even Russia and China are dealing with this. Iranian regime do not want another revolution, they want to retain their power. 80-90% of the people were against the regime and they knew it. Iranian and American people as a majority want to get along with the world, as do most countries.But the fact remains that there are those Islamic fundamentalist ideologies who use manipulation and lies to control the people under their brand of sharia Islam.They think they are superior and want a world caliphate but they dont represent the majority. They try to cause trouble, then when non Muslims defend themselves with retaliation they try to brainwash Muslims into thinking it was a war on Islam, when it wasnt and never has been. Iran regime cannot be trusted, they have been behind the scenes of many problems in the world and are using Israel as their pawn to distract their own people from the problems within, as well use Israel as a distraction to keep Sunni busy about this issue rather than Iran. The world needs to work together to help those countries find ways to stop terrorists. They eventually affect us all in one way or another.

      September 25, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  6. george

    By "inteligent" he means smarting up after that broad from Brazil trashed Obama on International law,sovereignty,democracy and human rights plus economic espionage.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  7. Hasai

    Obama has always excelled when it comes to oratory.

    Unfortunately, unlike the American public, the world's leaders and power-brokers are far less apt to be swayed by soaring rhetoric.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  8. Bobby

    Zakaria would love to blow Obama if he could...or maybe he already has

    September 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  9. Kay

    Peace and friendship is achievable; however, we must be alert and push back on those war-monger reps and their lobbyist; By now, we should know who they are since all we hear from them is : we do not engage, we do not talk, we do not listen, we just want to bomb you. America supposed to be world's symbol of peace, democracy and fair judge when it comes to international disputes.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  10. blvicente

    Stunning. Bush gave pretty much this exact same speech, and was called a warmonger.

    The media and Obama really ought to get a room. My only hope is that liberals will lose their hypocrisy.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  11. lela

    One duck starts quacking, all the others join in, hihi.

    September 25, 2013 at 12:10 am | Reply
  12. Truthful1

    Fareed, One Muslim supporting another Muslim, Obama. The World is in dissaray with the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even Obama's Childhood Home of Kenya followed the Boston Marathon Attack all carried out by Al-Qaeda in the US, and lets not forget the Ft Hood Shooting that Al-Qaeda Cradle Muslim Army Major who killed American Soldiers during a time of War, while Obama is in denial calling the Mass-Murder carried out by a Muslim Terrorist.

    September 25, 2013 at 12:21 am | Reply
  13. Tim

    This is a deception by Iran.

    " of an interview prior to the June Iranian election shows him(Rouhani) bragging how he, in his role as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, deceived the West during negotiations on Iran’s illicit nuclear program even as Iran expanded its nuclear power. At the same time, Rouhani managed to relieve pressure by the West, especially in convincing the Europeans..."


    The smartest man to ever be president is about to get his lunch eaten again.

    September 25, 2013 at 4:00 am | Reply
  14. sillyT

    i do not trust them in a box
    i do not trust them with a fox
    i do not trust them sam i am
    i say again screw iran!

    September 25, 2013 at 5:58 am | Reply
    • Elreyjones

      I trust almost anything more than the wicked Obama bin Biden Bolshevik regime.

      September 25, 2013 at 6:07 am | Reply
  15. Jack Rivera

    Everyone knows obama can make a speech and everyone knows obama words are cheap.

    September 25, 2013 at 6:21 am | Reply
  16. Terry

    Dems are so funny, if bo farted you'd claim he deserved a peace prize.....oh wait he got one for that already.

    September 25, 2013 at 6:49 am | Reply
  17. EA Marco Polo

    [Corrupt US government is cheating the US citizens]

    The immoral US government used evilest chemical weapon – Agent Orange – to hurt 2 million innocent Vietnamese and 20 million plants, but lies are spoken continually.

    Now again Obama supports the rebel using chemical weapon to hurt Syrian people for making fake as foreign military intervention. The only evidence is about chemical weapon used in Syria, and the rebel is the user. Immoral and lying Obama will be punished in the future.

    September 25, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply
  18. nonsense

    rouhani is not a moderate, was not supposed to be elected until curiously at the last minute Rafsanjani was disallowed...

    think Valerie Jarrett, running backchannels for the last yr....rouhani was a plan, a strategy to put in place someone who could look the part, talk the part and in so doing, get Obama the wiggle room to get out of his commitment to stop iran from going nuclear....and they will go nuclear...when it happens, Obama will merely say, I didn't see it coming, now we have to change to a policy of containment...he will of course blame Israel for not allowing a deal to take place as for sure, iran will demand that Israel de-nuke in return for a deal, and so Obama can blame Israel rather than accept responsibility. typical.the man has never been pro Israel and all his words are cleverly arranged to change the relationship all the while giving him the cover to do so.

    September 25, 2013 at 7:55 am | Reply
  19. timothy

    Obama put The us at risk with the iranians?

    September 25, 2013 at 8:46 am | Reply
  20. palintwit

    Bristol Palin's next novel should be hitting bookstore shelves soon. Her recent memoirs about her life as a drunk, pregnant teenager sold an astounding 1,500 copies and buoyed by this success she has worked very hard to write the sequel. Her adoring public expects no less because after all, the Palin family is known for not being quitters.

    And related news in the literary world has Sarah Palin hosting another book signing event this weekend. Tens of people are expected to show up.

    September 25, 2013 at 9:50 am | Reply
  21. Jerry Okamura

    He thinks it was a good speech, others have panned the speech. Who is right? How do we separate the chaff from the wheat?

    September 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  22. sallyedelstein

    One of the great myths we have perpetuated since the post war years and continue to this day is America as Peacekeeper.With our all American can-do optimism we have long flexed our formidable global muscles confident that our take charge performance would be gladly received wherever we went.Once upon a time the American military even advertised their soldiers as "Ambassadors of Peace." Take a look

    September 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  23. timeyouknowit

    explainer in chief? you mean terrorist in chief. obama changed teh federal law to allow him to fund a terrorist group and he provides aid and arms to them. he just had a marine arrested for supporting them and yet it ok for obama to use tax dollars to support Al Qeada and kill women and children with drones. I think not. One day we can only hope obama is broguht to face charges in Hague for his crimes....

    September 26, 2013 at 12:44 am | Reply
  24. Muin

    Yeah right. Stop sucking up. man

    September 26, 2013 at 2:08 am | Reply
  25. Mladen

    President Obama in his speech to the UNGA said: “Real breakthroughs on these two issues – Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace – would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.”

    The world is facing its gravest moments since the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Iran gets the bomb it will probably use it undeterred, since according to Bernard Lewis – “for people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement“. Millions may die. But what does President Obama put in the same sentence along with the prevention of this looming catastrophe? The resolution of the Arab –Israeli conflict which ranks 49th in terms of number of fatalities. This is absurd. It demonstrates that President Obama either does not understand the magnitude of the Iranian threat or he has inflated the importance of the Arab –Israeli conflict. Either way, he is detached from reality

    September 26, 2013 at 3:27 am | Reply
  26. waytogo

    very few intelligent comment in this discussion. That is sad considering the speech is intended to herald a break through in a long standing bickering with an important player in "Middle East-North Africa" (as the President has been framing it ) relations, considering that is where the anti-West, anti-American sentiments have been brewing & responsible for Global terrorism we have been witnessing. The President artfully highlighted the right of Palestinians to a homeland, emphasizing US's commitment to Israel's security at the same time. He acknowledged the right of Iran to pursue Nuclear for peaceful purposes , denouncing it's possibility of developing Nuclear weapons. Very "King Solomon" like

    September 27, 2013 at 2:26 am | Reply
  27. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    September 29, 2013 at 2:49 am | Reply
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