Obama Meets With Global 'Civil Society' Leaders

The president discusses the importance of governments acting to protect the dignity of their people.
16:28 | 09/23/13

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Transcript for Obama Meets With Global 'Civil Society' Leaders
This is a special report from -- -- I'm Dan -- -- New -- with -- CBC news digital special report President Obama is in New York City this afternoon ahead. Of a big speech at the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow. He is meeting now with -- white house calls -- civil society leaders from around the world. Let's listen -- of those comments. And auto. Offer -- few brief remarks in terms the purpose of this meeting we've got a wonderful panel here and some extraordinary representatives. Both heads of states. Members of civil society. People who have been working on these issues for a very long time. -- the focus today is. On civil society because it's my strong belief that the strength and success of all countries. At all regions. -- depends in part on protecting and supported civil society. I want to thank deputy Secretary. General. Allies have. I want to thank my good friend -- present. A big -- Mongolia. That were present in the community of democracies. Wanna thank Alejandro Gonzales. Are a lot of Mexico and representing civil society members of the open government partnership and I want -- -- view. For joining us here today. So human progress. Has always been propelled at some level. By what happens in civil society citizens coming together to insist that a better life as possible. Pushing their leaders. To protect the rights. And indignities of all people. And that's why the universal declaration of human rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This is not a western value this is a universal right. Civil society led the -- -- to end apartheid in South Africa. It led the fight to bring freedom to Eastern Europe. It helped to heal places divided by conflict. Whether in Cambodia. Colombia. Here in the United States civil -- been the catalyst of virtually every major advance. That we've made. From the abolition of slavery to. Women's rights civil rights the protections of workers and the protections of the environment. And yet still today -- every region. We just see that the fight goes -- -- we have citizens were leading the charge to expand opportunity. To correct injustices. To shape. Their country's futures. And it's my belief that strong nations recognize the values active citizens. They support and empower their citizens rather than stand in the way even when it's inconvenient or perhaps especially when it's inconvenient. For government leaders. Strong civil society's help uphold human rights. They promote good governments by making governments more effective and holding leaders. Mike me to account. And -- critical to economic development because in our global economy trade and investment flows to countries -- give citizens the freedom to create. And develop new -- this and that are protected by rule of law. So many countries including those miserable working in partnership with civil society -- The Mongolia -- Mexico. Tunisia Tanzania. -- governments and citizens are working together to improve the rule of law reduce wasteful spending. Organize public campaigns to strengthen health and education. Unfortunately -- what were also saying as a growing number of countries that are passing laws. Designed specifically to stifle. Civil society. They're forcing groups to register -- governments. Eroding human rights protections. Restrict restricting NGOs from accessing foreign funded. Cracking down on communications technologies that -- -- civil society groups around the world. In more extreme cases activists and journalists have been arrested on false charges. And some have been killed. We're also saying new and fragile democracies cracking down on civil society. Which I believe sets them back and sends dangerous signal to other countries. So in recent years the international committee of stepped up our support two years ago -- -- call. We came together to launch the open government partnership. To promote transparent effective and accountable institutions in partnership with civil society. Sixty countries and a broad coalition of civil society private sector partners have joined. The community of democracies is working to take aim at restrictive laws. Of the Human Rights Council. Established the first special repertory. On the rights of peaceful assembly and association and several governments and foundations including many in this room. Contribute to a lifeline fund for emergency aid to civil society groups under threat. -- made a point to meet with civil society worldwide. Virtually every foreign trip that I take our carve out time to -- citizens who are active while on a whole range of issues. And in part it's to lift up the good work they're doing him a -- That the United States stands behind their efforts. Nevertheless. We have to recognize that the -- continues and we urgently need to do more. To increase global attention and spur global action so that's why we're here. I'm challenge in all of us to use the next twelve months to make progress in three key areas. First we have to identify specific steps that countries including the United States can take to make it easier for civil society do its job. And to encourage -- governments to embrace civil society groups as partners. Number two. We need to do more to stand against restrictions. On civil society and better coordinate our diplomacy. When the government tries to stifle civil society. You know I think it's critical that the international community should be working together to ensure that their actual consequences. And number three we have to find. New and better ways to support civil society in difficult circumstances. Governments -- restricts -- siders are sharing their worst practices we've got to make sure that we're -- her best practices. -- doing all we can to help civil society succeed. Many of you know that. I didn't began my career in elect an elective politics I began. Working in low income communities. In Chicago. I was elected as president through the active participation of citizens. And so I know what active citizens can do. And the United States. As. One of I think our most precious gifts has been trying to set an example. Of how active citizens. Can make -- country strong. That makes us deeply committed to protecting the rights of all people who are contributing to our nation's progress. Or their nation's progress and as other countries crackdown. I believe we've got to step up together. Those of us in this room. But a whole lot of people outside this room as well so I'm going to be looking for specific actions specific follow -- steps and would -- What I'd like to do is turned over to the deputy Secretary General for his remarks -- the moment sure that this outstanding panel. All has an option and make their contribution. Thank you very much Mr. President and -- President Obama speaking to symbols -- leaders around the world ask the United Nations ahead of tomorrow's UN general assembly I want to bring in ABC news political director declined to discuss some of the comments -- the president just made it also about his week ahead. Rick -- -- heard the president saying part of the purpose of civil societies to hold leaders accountable is -- specific account. But the president is referring to that he has been criticized for him. Well you can you can almost create a list for him this week guy you have the attacks in -- -- that highlight the needs to fight terrorism you have. Of course the pressing issue of Syria where the president and his own word wrong line he's been trying to Marshal the international community. And -- the intriguing possibility of of talking to Iran directly for the first time in a very long time and in more than a generation. With the president's. And potentially having a high level meeting on that this week so there's all these different international issues right now but if you're looking for a theme I think accountability maybe a good one right now and where are we leaning on the potential of that -- happening because I know that the the possibility was put out there. As the White House given any kind of indication in fact that it is trying to maneuver push for -- to make that happen. The latest we know is that secretary of state John Kerry's -- -- -- with the Iranian Foreign Ministry even that. Unprecedented in the last 36 years of of US Iranian relations. But stay in terms of a higher level -- -- -- the biggest the likely as window would be tomorrow when all the world leaders will be. I gather in one place and I think the indications were that we've gotten so far suggest it is very much on the table still. Nothing locked in they don't want a lot of disappointment if it doesn't end up happening but that the president. Very much wants to have a meeting like this to at least test to see with the new Iranian regime. Is all about when they talk about normalizing relations and strengthening ties -- speaking of testing that does the White House the State Department. They take in this new leader's words at face value that the Iran in fact want to make a deal or is this a possibly of a district tactical adjustment. I -- do their very much skeptical of the latter and anything -- any reason to be. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came around said it -- the Netanyahu government. Very skeptical of the Iranians they think that this is a ploy for time and I think that the United States in danger being played. But from president Obama's perspective he he greeted the election of the -- marine president with the letters we know that they exchanged. Notes in the wake of that and in he's just listening to the public comments in and here's a much different theme emerging from his comments than we -- from -- -- -- job so. At least take that it peeking out it would -- with a base value is worth -- suggested that is why not at least take. Some kind of a staff to see how serious they are and we can always walk it back -- it seems like the Iranians are just playing for time. Got going back to which -- -- introduced a couple of moments ago we've got some first reports just. An American educated woman -- Harvard grad in fact killed. A during a terrorist attacks in the mall in Nairobi what's the latest we've heard that from reaction from the White House. We -- just in the last hour or so we have the president speak for the first time about this attack condemning it and also offering as much support as the American government can -- to the canyons. This is this is bigger than Kenya and this is why it struck such a -- here is that we know that the terror network there were talking about has highs around the world including in the United States. And any kind of an attack like this on a western type of outpost this is a high end mall in Kenya Weirton. Americans often are is seen as it is something different than at -- more typical attack -- in a foreign country so this I think is. Has resonated with national security officials with the Obama white house of the -- at a level that maybe a little bit different and affected you want to play that comment that the president may just short time -- I want express. Personally my condolences -- -- my brother and -- lost. But -- -- people. We stand with them. -- it was. Terrible outrage -- We will provide them -- -- -- law forced. That is necessary. And we are confident that if which has been pillars ability in the eastern Africa. Bill. So -- the question is what do we know what the extent of western governments involvement and support for the canyons. For a for the Kenyan government. We don't know anything about direct on the grounds the support so far we have this offer from the president that you presume they would take up on. As a citizen to monitor very closely and I think that we probably more. What the US response was initially in the region this is obviously it happened on Kenyan soil but because US interest or selling intertwined with an attack like this clearly. Whoever's behind it trying to send a message that was -- to -- -- the messages in Kenya. It is rattle cages here in Washington and not only from -- should Bob which is a group -- very great responsibility for this but what has also been the reaction from the White House as far as greater concern for al-Qaeda. Yeah any time al-Qaeda engages or any attack if it affiliates engaged in something like this you concerned about follow up -- concern about repercussions are concerned about things back at home. We know that these are terrorist cells that have that have networks across the world that there is out lot of activity in the United States as well so they're always on the look -- we -- new rounds of warnings issued. By American authorities to just be on the -- telling law enforcement agencies to be aware of this and this -- their. Their reaction time just a little bit there -- clear there's a lot of international issues that has the president's attention right now but also here at home. There are certainly in major concerns right from DC Republicans back try to define the president's Affordable Care Act. Possible government shut down what are right now -- happening in congress what does the president facing us is entering this week but we've got one week left before the government shuts down if we don't. Approved funding beyond September 30 and now than there will be -- a partial government shutdown we have an and one of those is 9596. And that's a big deal and itself. At the same time -- -- the Obama health care a lot going into effect the next stage of it done on -- October 1 the state based insurance exchanges -- of those two issues that are that are caught up in each other over the next week. And you have ever else can -- recalcitrant congress you have Republicans are just last week pass on the and they know that Democrats won't swallow. Funny the government by stripping. All funding for obamacare so kings back to the senate now -- in any way out -- a little bit not -- -- late in the week. But that is all kinds of maneuvering imaginations right now to try to figure out the best strategy going forward right now -- -- conventional wisdom is that. Republicans have a losing hand they know that they don't -- shut down the government over this so if they know that going into it is only so much that they can now. Hope to rest in terms of compromise Rick if you can clarify some Beirut regarding that we're very -- Republicans because with regard to -- GOP plan about the funny and obamacare. Drivers has. -- senate Republicans could possibly be in a position where they would have to filibuster their own party's bill. Bizarrely yes so -- Ted Cruz and likely -- -- the good -- brainchild of the masterminds of this whole idea. Of of passing something through the house that would include stripping a funding for obamacare there were only chance to stop it may be in stopping it from ever getting to the senate floor because once it gets on the floor Democrats have the votes so. They're talking now about filibustering a bill. That they told the house to pass now if you think that's confusing you're not alone reports. This -- highlights the problem -- they have been making this argument that this is a good strategy for governance. To it to go ahead in and improve government funding contingent on getting rid of funding for particular law so. They are losing the message war on this -- trying to find some kind of a strategy that works out for them but yes that is going to be a hard filibuster to explain to the American people. I was just gonna ask you about it because it obvious -- -- if you can complicate Hampshire within the party and then obviously to be able to sell to everyone else. This really no easy task well what about the president has yet any negotiations yet with house Republicans. Nine -- actually the only communication that he had was on Friday where he called house speaker Boehner and according debaters office that call was to tell him that he would not be negotiating on the debt ceiling now that's different than what we're talking about right now there's a funny for the government but it was an important signal. Even know the Republicans aren't believing -- and they believe negotiations will take place the only communication that we had was a phone call to say hey we're not gonna beat you we're not going to be communicating any further on this because we're not -- negotiate also. It is a strange. -- sense of of an eleventh hour when you don't even have the two sides talking but then again I guess that means that talks won't break down. That that is think that is the glass half full I suppose but way of looking at it reclining DC were expected so much I appreciate that. -- have a complete report and abcnews.com. As the president will be beginning tomorrow as the UN general assembly meeting and of course today as he's meeting with leaders of the civil society society. I'm Dan Cutler -- New York with the CBC news digital special report. This has been a special report from the --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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