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(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama stressed the importance of peace-making between Israelis and Palestinians in one of the few foreign policy challenges he mentioned in his first address to Congress Tuesday night.
"To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort," he noted. "To meet the challenges of the 21st century - from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty - we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power."
He also referred to Aghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, saying of the last he would soon announce a new policy there that "responsibly ends this war." He also promised a new strategy for the first two that would "defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away."
In his speech, which focused primarily on the economy and domestic issues, Obama alluded to one strategy that he said had already begun: greater diplomatic engagement.
"We know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America," he said. "We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm."
The 52-minute speech was greeted with sustained applause in a chamber he helped populate with more members of his own party. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike rose repeatedly to offer their approval of the president's rhetoric and his promise of recovery.
After describing the US economy in nearly apocalyptic terms for weeks, pushing his $787 billion stimulus plan through Congress, the president used his address to Congress on Tuesday night to tap the deep well of American optimism - the never-say-die spirit that every president tries to capture in words. And great presidents embody.
"We will rebuild. We will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," Obama said, echoing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
"The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach," Obama said. "What is required now for this country is to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."
The themes of responsibility, accountability and, above all, national community rang throughout an address carefully balanced by the gravity of its times. Job losses. Home foreclosures. Credit crisis. Rising health care costs. Declining trust in government.
"The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere," he said.
"You should also know," Obama told millions of viewers Tuesday night, "that the money you've deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system."
Obama asked Americans to unite against pessimism. "We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal," Obama said. "Now we must be that nation again."
Obama said his government had already provided the machinery to create jobs, improve access to health care, free up credit and help struggling homeowners.
He challenged Americans to help fix the nation's woes. Obama even challenged his fellow citizens to recognize their role in creating the problem. "People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford," Obama said, "from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway."
"None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy," he said after spelling out his agenda. "But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward."
"We are not quitters," was Obama's bottom-line message to a shaken nation.