President Barack Obama travels to New York City Monday to attend the U.N. General Assembly for his fifth time as president, and will meet with a host of world leaders to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria, the prospect of brokering Mideast peace between Palestinians and Israelis and preventing a nuclear Iran. He will also attend a Clinton Global Initiative event Tuesday and discuss the implementation of his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act.
Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said Friday Obama will have bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Nigeria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon.
Obama will also address the U.N. assembly Tuesday, Rhodes said, and highlight issues such as the global importance of confronting the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.
"He will reinforce the need for the international community to stand strongly against the use of chemical weapons and continue to argue for a clear diplomatic process to put [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's chemical weapons under international control and ultimately destroy them," Rhodes said in a telephone briefing with reporters.
Obama will also use his general assembly speech to push Mideast peace proposals and a diplomatic solution to preventing a nuclear Iran, Rhodes said.
"He will also discuss other challenges and opportunities in the region, including our ongoing pursuit of Middle East peace and the opportunity that is presented by the fact that the Israelis and Palestinians have made hard choices to come into direct negotiations on final status issues," he said.
"[Obama] will discuss the situation regarding Iran's nuclear program and the longstanding effort that we've had since he took office to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations."
Obama's meeting with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority will be bookended with an upcoming meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House scheduled for Sept. 30. This will be the first time Obama has spoken with the two leaders since Secretary of State John Kerry re-launched efforts to negotiate a peace deal after the Obama administration abandoned a similar attempt early in Obama's presidency.
"This is an important opportunity for him to reinforce the support of the United States for the progress that is underway towards Middle East peace, to welcome the courageous steps that have been taken by both leaders, while also reinforcing the need to continue to make progress given the opportunity that is presented through these negotiations," Rhodes said of the two meetings.
While the president does not have any meetings scheduled with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Rhodes indicated Obama is open to the idea.
"As a general matter, we've consistently made clear that we're open to bilateral discussions with the Iranians at a range of levels," he said. "Frankly, that's a position that the president has taken since he ran for this office in 2007. But there's not anything currently planned … and I can't predict every interaction that might take place at different levels at the U.N."
Also potentially on the president's agenda is dissuading concerns from world leaders about U.S. spying, in the wake of leaked documents from Edward Snowden, the ex-National Security Agency contract worker who revealed extensive surveillance by the U.S. on other governments, including allies such as Brazil.
"This is an ongoing issue that we'll have to address going forward with a host of countries," Rhodes said. "Our basic point is the United States government collects intelligence just like just about every other country in the world. So the notion that we are unique in terms of intelligence collection in other countries is just not true."