President Obama used his address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to extend a hand to Iran, while calling on U.N. Security Council members to back a resolution that would mandate consequences for Syria if it fails to cooperate with a plan to turn its chemical weapons stockpiles over to the international community
Obama said the U.S. and international community's disputes with Iran over it's nuclear program can't be solved overnight but said he sees an opportunity to take a "major step down a long road toward a different relationship."
"The road blocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe that the diplomatic path must be tested, Obama said.
Obama's speech focused broadly on U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, with a particular emphasis on ridding Syria of its chemical stockpile, ongoing direct Middle East negotiations, and renewing efforts to nudge Iran to give up its nuclear weapons.
The latest push on Iran comes as Obama has expressed cautious optimism about the new Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani, who has made overtures to Obama about coming to a political solution to resolve years of crippling international economic sanctions for its nuclear programs.
Since coming into power last month, Rouhani--who ran as a moderate in this summer's Iranian elections--has traded private letters with Obama and has said he has complete authority to negotiate with the U.S. on its nuclear program.
Obama also noted in his address Iran's supreme leader's fatwa against developing nuclear weapons, and Rouhani"s comments against nuclear weapons as reasons to believe that headway can be made in solving the decade old problem and lead to an easing of crippling international sanctions against Tehran.
But Obama warned, "These words must be followed by actions that are transparent and verifiable."
All eyes are on whether Obama and Rouhani will meet face-to-face later today - even if it's merely a handshake between the two leaders. The White House said on Tuesday nothing was scheduled, but did not close the door on a chance encounter.
Even if Obama and Rouhani don't meet, the White House announced on Monday that Secretary of State Kerry will participate in the highest level face-to-face contract between U.S. and Iranian officials since hard line Islamists overthrew the pro-American Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi more than 34 years ago.
Kerry, along with his counterparts from six other major powers negotiating to contain Iran's nuclear program, will meet Thursday with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss the program.
On Syria, Obama made the case that the U.N. Security Council must hold Syria accountable if it does not follow through on Russian proposal floated earlier this month to relinquish it's chemical weapons stockpile.
The Russian plan faces a difficult hurdle. As part of the deal to get Syrians to give up control of the their chemical stockpile, the Russians want Obama to agree that he will not carry out military action against Bashar Assad's regime--something the White House has been unwilling to agree to.
"Our response has not matched the scale of the challenge," Obama told the world leaders.
Obama also scoffed at Assad's assertion that his regime was not responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical attack that killed 1,400 in the suburbs of Damascus. He also gently chastised the Assad's regime chief patrons--Russia and Iran--insisting that Assad's rule will lead to what they fear most - extremist rule
"It is an insult to...the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack," Obama said.
Obama also pledged an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid to assist Syrian civilians whose lives who have been upended by the crisis.