American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2012 – The assault on the U.S. Consulate earlier this month in Benghazi, Libya, was an attack not only on America, but also on the ideals of the United Nations, President Barack Obama said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly today.
The attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, was an assault on “the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully, that diplomacy can take the place of war, and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens,” the president said.
Nations must be serious about the assault on those ideals and must go to the root causes that extremists use to incite populations, Obama said. “If we are serious about those ideals,” he told the General Assembly, “we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis, because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common.”
Leaders, the president said, must decide that violence and intolerance have no place in the United Nations.
America has supported the forces of change sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, Obama said. “We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspirations of men and women who took to the streets,” he said. “We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy put us on the side of the people.”
The United States supported leadership transition in Yemen and intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition “because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant,” he said.
Obama also restated the U.S. position that the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad must end.
“We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture,” he said. Freedom is a universal value, the president added.
The events of the past two weeks -- in which extremists have used an Internet video that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad to spur anti-American demonstrations -- speak to the need for nations to address the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy, Obama said. The United States will not dictate the outcome of democratic transitions, the president said, nor does America expect every nation to agree with U.S. positions.
“However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism,” he said. “It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not resorting to violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.”
Obama reiterated that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so,” he said. “But that time is not unlimited.”
A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained, Obama said. “It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of [Persian] Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy,” he added.
Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would spur an arms race in the region and unravel the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Obama said.
“That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable,” he added. “And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”