President Barack Obama pledged in a speech to world leaders today that the U.S. is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and said the time for resolving the issue through diplomacy “is not unlimited.”
While the U.S. believes there is still time to settle the matter, Obama told the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York that a nuclear-armed Iran would imperil Israel, ignite a regional arms race and destabilize the global economy.
“Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Obama said in the text of his remarks. “The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
The Middle East and North Africa were the focus for Obama in his UN speech, including the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost that resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11. The turmoil and protest were triggered by an anti-Islam video made in the U.S.
While calling the video “crude and disgusting” and saying the U.S. government had nothing to do with it, Obama said such expression can’t be banned in a free society.
Right to Expression
“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views -– even views that we disagree with,” Obama said. “We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.”
Obama called the assaults in Libya “attacks on America” and vowed that the U.S. would be “relentless” in tracking down the killers.
He warned that newly elected leaders in countries such as Libya and Egypt are threatened by the same anger and extremism that led to the attacks targeting the U.S.
“The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained,” Obama said. “The same impulses toward extremism are used to justify war between Sunnis and Shia, between tribes and clans.”
While saying the future must not belong to those who slander Islam, Obama said “those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.”
Obama also restated his call that the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “must come to an end.”
Obama’s handling of foreign policy is a rising issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney has sought to attack Obama over the handling of relations with Israel, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the recent Middle East turmoil.
Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York before Obama spoke at the UN, Romney said that with developments in Libya, Syria, Egypt and Iran, “We somehow feel that we’re at the mercy of events instead of shaping events.”
Obama also was scheduled to address the conference after his UN address.
Trita Parsi, president of National Iranian-American Council, said while Obama sharpened his tone in the UN address, “he does not shift the red line” to a nuclear-capable Iran from a nuclear-armed Iran.
“The U.S. does not aim to start a war of choice with Iran merely over its enrichment activities,” Parsi said. “Obama is right in resisting the Netanyahu government’s pressure for the U.S. to adopt a red line that Israel itself has refused to draw. Acceptance of the Israeli red line would in essence mean that the U.S. should have gone to war with Iran several years ago.”
Obama has no announced one-on-one meetings with world leaders during his time at the UN, a schedule that has drawn criticism from Republicans. Last year, he had more than a dozen private sessions with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, France, the U.K. and other nations.
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