Foreign Policy Priorities from President Obama’s State of the Union Speech (January 20)

In his penultimate State of the Union address on January 20, President Obama told the 114th Congress, the Supreme Court, diplomatic guests, and others assembled at the U.S. Capitol that the United States leads the world best by combining its military power with strong diplomacy and coalition building.

As is often the case, the address focused heavily on domestic issues, but President Obama also outlined several foreign policy priorities for the coming year.

•The United States stands with Ukraine and its other European allies in the face of Russian aggression.

“We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.”

• Stating the United States stands with those around the world who have been targeted by terrorists, the president urged Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.

“We are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”

• The president urged Congress to support a course change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere. It removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

•The president said he will continue his efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“It’s time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are.”

•American diplomacy toward Iran has helped halt its nuclear activities and reduced its nuclear material, the president said, urging Congress to give diplomatic efforts more time to work.

“Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran [and] secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”

•U.S. and global efforts to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa have saved lives, but there is more work to be done. Obama called on the global community to make the investment to stop the next pandemic.

“The world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.”

•American leadership will help drive international action in response to climate change, he said.

“If we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, and conflict, and hunger around the globe.”