Addressing world leaders, Obama offered no new commitments of U.S. dollars, but rather a blueprint of the development policy that will drive his government's efforts and determine where the money flows. His message was that the United States wants to help countries help themselves, not offer aid that provides short-term relief without reforming societies.
"That's not development, that's dependence," Obama said. "And it's a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and people a path out of poverty."
Obama spoke at a major anti-poverty summit convened by the United Nations, one day ahead of his main speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The president is in the midst of a three-day trip to the U.N. for its annual meeting.
World leaders on Wednesday were wrapping up an intensive review of the poverty reduction goals adopted 10 years ago, a highly ambitious effort that has yielded mixed results. The mission is to cut extreme poverty, reduce child and maternal mortality and expand primary education, among other objectives, by 2015.
The president, met by applause as he took the grand U.N. stage, sought to elevate the mission of U.S. development.
Noting the Americans hurting at home, where a recession has eroded millions of jobs, Obama defended the spending of U.S. tax dollars to help others build up their agriculture, transportation and health systems. He called it not just a moral imperative but an investment that can help the global economy and reduce the threats of instability and extremism.
"Let's put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests," Obama said.
The White House framed the president's blueprint as a fresh, far-reaching approach to helping other countries, although it builds on programs of other presidents. Obama sought to offer a sense of clarity of why the United States aids other nations, saying it is "rooted in America's enduring commitment to the dignity and potential of every human being."
Obama said development should no longer be measured by how much money or medicine is delivered, but by the extent to which the U.S. helps countries build up themselves. He aimed to show toughness in setting demands of recipient nations.
"The purpose of development - and what's needed most right now - is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed," he said. "So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people."
He said the U.S. will not abandon countries that need lifesaving help. But he made a plea to developing countries to show responsibility: "We want to help you realize your aspirations. But there is no substitute for your leadership."
International aid organizations praised Obama's commitment to the cause but offered sober words about the challenge ahead, pressing the U.S. president and other leaders of rich nations to follow up on their promises.
Obama then shifted quickly from the plight of the developing world to domestic politics. He was raising money in New York City on Wednesday night for Democratic congressional candidates ahead of the midterm elections in six weeks.
The centerpiece of Obama's trip comes Thursday when he addresses the General Assembly in a speech expected to defend his efforts to advance Mideast peace and combat nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Anita Snow and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.