President Barack Obama played up United States progress in both Afghanistan and Iraq on Tuesday, while declaring the United States would stay tough on North Korea and Iran over their nuclear ambitions.
Obama used his annual State of the Union address to the American people to list foreign policy successes including the "re-set" in relations with Russia, a growing partnership with India and a revitalized effort to control the global spread of nuclear weapons.
But the stalled Middle East peace effort -- which Obama launched in September but quickly foundered on deep Israeli and Palestinian divisions -- got no mention, although White House officials said the omission did not reflect any flagging of U.S. commitment to the peace effort.
Obama said the United States stood with the people of Tunisia, "where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator" as protests this month forced the departure of longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
But he steered clear of any reference to Egypt, where a day of unprecedented protests against President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally, on Tuesday has raised comparisons with the Tunisian revolt.
Obama noted that U.S. troops were on schedule to finish their deployment in Iraq this year "with their heads held high" and repeated his plan to begin drawing down the some 97,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July despite the continued threat posed by al Qaida.
"There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an
enduring partnership with them," Obama said.
For al-Qaida, he said the message was clear: "We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you."
Defusing nuclear threats
Obama said the United States was committed to defusing the world's nuclear threats -- signaling no let up in U.S. pressure on Tehran and Pyongyang despite efforts to engage both in discussions of their nuclear programs.
"Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before," Obama said, less than a week after the latest round of talks between Tehran and world powers ended with no sign of progress.
"And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons," he said.
Obama, who has visited China, India, Indonesia and Ghana, announced plans to visit Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in March, part of a U.S. diplomatic campaign to shore up ties with fast-emerging regions.
And he urged Congress to pass a free trade agreement with South Korea "as soon as possible" while offering no timetable for action on two other pacts with Panama and Colombia.
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