UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Barack Obama told world leaders Tuesday that attacks on U.S. citizens in Libya ‘‘were attacks on America,’’ and he called on them to join in confronting the root causes of the rage across the Muslim world.
‘‘I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism,’’ Obama said in a speech to the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly.
Obama also condemned the anti-Muslim video that helped spark the recent attacks, calling it ‘‘cruel and disgusting.’’ But he strongly defended the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the freedom of expression, ‘‘even views that we profoundly disagree with.’’
With U.S. campaign politics shadowing every word, Obama also warned that time to peacefully curb the Iranian nuclear crisis is running out.
He said there is ‘‘still time and space’’ to resolve the issue through diplomacy. But that time is not unlimited.’’
‘‘Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the unraveling of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty,’’ he said.
The foreign minister of Indonesia, the nation with world’s largest Muslim population, said Obama’s speech was a ‘‘clarion call’’ for all nations to shun intolerance and he expected Muslim nations to react positively. .
‘‘There will be a lot of sympathy. It is an issue that galvanizes all of us,’’ Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told The Associated Press. But he added that freedom of expression should be exercised with consideration to morality and public order.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has accused Obama of not being tough enough on Iran and of turning his back on Israel and other allies in the Middle East. Romney also has said he doesn’t have much faith in peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama told the U.N.: ‘‘Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace.’’
Romney in separate remarks to a global conference sponsored by former President Bill Clinton, said the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that took the life of the U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. citizens was an act of terrorism.
Obama mentioned the slain U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, several times in his address.
‘‘Today, we must declare that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United nations,’’ he said.
Unlike Romney, Obama has not specifically called the attacks in Libya and other U.S. missions terrorism.
Obama said that ‘‘at a time when anyone with a cellphone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button,’’ the notion that governments can control the flow of information is obsolete.
‘‘There is no speech that justifies mindless violence,’’ such as the attack that left the four Americans dead in Libya, Obama said.
‘‘The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.’’
Obama said that the United States ‘‘will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice.’’ And he said he appreciated ‘‘that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the region — including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen — have taken steps to secure our diplomatic facilities and called for calm. So have religious authorities around the globe.’’
The president said there was no way the United States would have just banned the offensive video that helped trigger the attacks, as some leaders in the Muslim world have advocated.
‘‘Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs,’’ Obama said.
‘‘Moreover, as president of our country and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so,’’ he said, drawing laughter from his audience.
Running through Obama’s speech was an overall theme that leaders of the Muslim world should also stand up for freer speech and oppose those who vent their anger with violence.
‘‘There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon or destroy a school in Tunis or cause death and destruction in Pakistan,’’ Obama said.Continued...