U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to empower women, advance economic opportunity and eradicate extreme poverty around the world within two decades in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
In a Feb. 12 speech focused on improving the lot of the U.S. middle class, Obama also vowed to help stabilize countries such as Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Mali, and help to spread democracy from the Middle East to South-East Asia.
Obama’s call for the eradication of extreme poverty comes at a time when global leaders are debating followup targets to the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015 and called for the halving of extreme poverty by then. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and others have been pushing for a global commitment to “get to zero” poverty, and this was Obama’s most public acknowledgement yet of his intention to support the effort.
By highlighting the U.S. government’s work on behalf of women and by reaffirming U.S. leadership in achieving an AIDS-free generation, a bold pledge first announced two years ago around World AIDS Day, Obama took up two causes prioritized by Hillary Clinton, his first secretary of state who left office earlier this month. Her successor, the former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, has commented little on HIV yet, although the bulk of the U.S. global health program, through PEPFAR, is housed within the State Department he now leads.
Here’s the part of the president’s annual prime-time speech that concerns global development:
“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
“Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, ‘There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.’
“In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.”
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