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Remarks of President Barack Obama
“Responsibility for our Common Future”
Address to the United Nations General Assembly
September 23, 2009

In this hall, we come from many places, but we share a common future.

The religious convictions that we hold in our hearts can forge new bonds among people, or tear us apart. The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a single child – anywhere – can enrich our world, or impoverish it.
We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.
We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words. Speeches alone will not solve our problems – it will take persistent action. So for those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions that we have taken in just nine months.


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We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals. And we address our priorities here, in this institution – for instance, through the Security Council meeting that I will chair tomorrow on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and through the issues that I will discuss today.
This is what we have done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future. But make no mistake: this cannot be solely America’s endeavor. 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. We have sought – in word and deed – a new era of engagement with the world. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

If we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we are not living up to that responsibility. Consider the course that we are on if we fail to confront the status quo. Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. 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. 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.

This body was founded on the belief that the nations of the world could solve their problems together. Franklin Roosevelt, who died before he could see his vision for this institution become a reality, put it this way – and I quote: “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one Nation…. It cannot be a peace of large nations – or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”
The cooperative effort of the whole world. Those words ring even more true today, when it is not simply peace – but our very health and prosperity that we hold in common. Yet I also know that this body is made up of sovereign states. And sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and to point fingers and stoke division. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anyone can do that.
Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more.

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Now it falls to us – for this institution will be what we make of it. The United Nations does extraordinary good around the world in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and mending places that have been broken. But it also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding.
I believe that those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution – they are a calling to redouble our efforts. The United Nations can either be a place where we bicker about outdated grievances, or forge common ground; a place where we focus on what drives us apart, or what brings us together; a place where we indulge tyranny, or a source of moral authority. In short, the United Nations can be an institution that is disconnected from what matters in the lives of our citizens, or it can be indispensable in advancing the interests of the people we serve.
We have reached a pivotal moment. The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation – one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations. With confidence in our cause, and with a commitment to our values, we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people deserve. Thank you.