Seeking to breathe the much needed life into his lacklustre second term, Barack Obama in his fifth State of Union address vowed to make 2014 a ‘year of action’, when he wouldn’t care about Congress to take crucial decisions and would act without legislation “wherever and whenever” needed.
Addressing a joint session of Congress in a televised speech that was seen by millions, Obama promised to narrow the gap between the wealthy and the poor, hike the wages of federal contract workers in an address which was themed on tapering down America’s economic inequality.
In his address that lasted for about an hour, Obama mainly focussed upon economy and healthcare, only shortly touching upon foreign policy matters, speaking on Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and also Africa.
On Iran, Obama reiterated that he would veto any sanctions bill proposed by Congress as it would threaten to derail the talks with the Islamic Republic.
Urging the Congress to give American diplomacy a chance, Obama said that it was diplomacy which had brought Iran to the negotiating table and prevented it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Saying that the US was “clear-eyed” on Iran’s support to the terrorist group Hezbollah, Obama said, “If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions”.
Talking about Afghanistan he said, “America’s longest war will finally be over.”
“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.”
Apprehensive of the adverse reactions of drone strikes in other countries, Obama said that he had imposed “prudent limits” on drones saying, “We will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence”.
He also emphasised on the need for the US to distance itself from wars, saying, ” America must move off a permanent war footing”.
Obama also spoke on Syria saying that the US was with the opposition.
“In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.”
Apparently dissatisfied with the sluggish pace of legislative action and promising to make 2014, a year of action, Obama said, “America does not stand still and neither do I.”
Asking for a hike in the minimum wage for the federal contract workers, that is $7.25 an hour, Obama said, “If you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” Mr. Obama says. “Give America a raise.”