This morning, President Barack Obama had tough words for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the U.N. General Assembly, declaring, "A leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain legitimacy."
He also took a firm stance with another power in the Middle East: Israel.
"I believe that there is a growing belief in Israel," Obama said, "that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the fabric of Israel's democracy."
In the game of international diplomacy, semantics matter, and the word "occupation" rubbed some conservatives the wrong way:
Obama also made a strong appeal to the international community for a two-state solution, saying, "The Palestinian people have the right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state."
While recent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have stalled, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed, in principle, to a two-state solution. Many conservative ministers in his own cabinet, however, have staunchly opposed it.
"The Likud party is still the party of the national camp of Israel, still the party that believes we have rights to the land in Judea and Samaria, and I think that the majority of the party still isn't supporting the idea that there will be a Palestinian state in our backyard," said Danny Danon, Israel's minister of defense, to the Jewish Daily Forward earlier this summer.
Obama also didn't specify how he would address the issue of the Israelis who have already built homes in the West Bank, as TIME's Ishaan Tharoor noted:
Glaring absence in Obama's Israel-Palestine spiel (and why it won't come to much): the S-word. Settlements. #UNGA— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) September 24, 2013
Not that Obama was directly challenging Israel's leadership. The United States does, after all, send its strongest ally in the region around $3 billion every year in aid.
"Just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced," he said, "the state of Israel is here to stay."
But his hopeful tone on Iran could offset some of that goodwill. Obama claimed that, while the United States was "determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," he was "not seeking regime change" and he respected "the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy."
This comes after speculation that Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could, possibly, shake hands sometime over the next week, after Rouhani took his "charm offensive" to NBC News and The Washington Post last week to claim that Iran "will never develop nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu, after Rouhani called Israel "an occupier and usurper government," dismissed the moves as "media spin in order to keep the centrifuges spinning."
That could create some awkward conversations between Obama and Netanyahu as the U.N. General Assembly continues on:
So Netanyahu at the #UNGA will be coming as partypooper to US-Iran rapprochement. Awkward— Amir Mizroch (@Amirmizroch) September 24, 2013
The U.N. will have to wait until next Tuesday to hear Netanyahu speak, but an Israeli official tells The New York Times that the Israeli prime minister will stress that while Iran "professes to seemingly peaceful intentions," ultimately "Iran must not be allowed to repeat North Korea's ploy to get nuclear weapons."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 4 simple steaks you can cook in a pan
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Does solar energy have a battery problem?
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
Subscribe to the Week