Obama lays out 2015 agenda, says 'shadow of crisis has passed'

Thursday, January 22, 2015
[PHOTO: Pete Souza/White House] 

Washington: U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that after years of war and recession, "the shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong."

In his annual State of the Union address, Obama took credit for a hard-won rebirth of the U.S. economy and said it is now time to "turn the page."

He used the nationally televised address to argue for his economic strategy, including a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans to help those less fortunate.

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?" Obama asked. "Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?"

Obama called for the U.S. Congress to pass an infrastructure plan to provide modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet connections.

An analyst told RFE/RL that the speech was surprisingly weighted heavily in favor of domestic issues over international affairs.

It was Obama's first State of the Union address with both the Senate and House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, the result of the elections in November.

Many Republicans have already voiced opposition to some of Obama's domestic agenda.

In his speech, Obama called on all members of Congress to work together and avoid bipartisan bickering.

On the international stage, Obama called for "a smarter kind of American leadership" that combines military power and strong diplomacy.

Obama vowed to relentlessly hunt down terrorists from "Pakistan to the streets of Paris," and urged Congress to approve new war powers against Islamic State militants.

Lawmakers waved yellow pencils to show their support for free speech when Obama mentioned the attacks earlier this month in Paris.

The 17 people killed by Islamist militant gunmen included staff at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Obama said Washington was upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small -- by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine's democracy.

Obama said international sanctions slapped on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and its actions in Ukraine have hurt Russia.

Obama dismissed those who say that Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions have been "a masterful display of strategy and strength."

"Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters," Obama said.

On Iran, Obama warned any new sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress would almost certainly doom nuclear talks with Tehran and vowed to veto any such measures.

"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails - alienating America from its allies, making it harder to maintain sanctions and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again," the U.S. leader said.

Obama also said the anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world is deplorable and rejected "offensive" stereotypes of Muslims.

Obama said U.S. policy toward Cuba is "long past its expiration date" and urged Congress to end the long-running embargo.

Obama said that reopening diplomatic ties has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

He welcomed home Alan Gross, whose release from Cuba in a prisoner exchange last month cleared the way for a new relationship.

Gross was given a place of honor with first lady Michelle Obama for the speech.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Middle East specialist at the U.S. State Department, said he was surprised by Obama's focus on domestic matters "considering the significant foreign policy challenges that he faces in the last two years of his presidency."

"But he seemed to be feeling that the fact that all the trends on the domestic economy are upward -- they're definitely positive trends -- and they are very positive when you compare it to the economic trends of the rest of the world," Dunne explained.

It was Obama's sixth State of the Union address. For the first time ever, the entire text of his speech was made available online before Obama spoke.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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