Obama calls for Syria 'sanctions' and end to Assad rule
UNITED NATIONS - Agence France-Presse
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. REUTERSUS President Barack Obama today demanded "sanctions and consequences" for atrocities in Syria and said President Bashar al-Assad's rule must come to an end.
"The future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people," Obama told the UN General Assembly in a keynote address.
"If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings." He told leaders at the UN headquarters: "As we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin." Obama also warned that the international community must act to prevent the 18 month old uprising against Assad turning into "a cycle of sectarian violence." He said the United States wants a Syria "that is united and inclusive; where children don't need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed -- Sunnis and Alawites; Kurds and Christians." "That is the outcome that we will work for -- with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute; and assistance and support for those who work for this common good," Obama said.
"We believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and legitimacy to lead." Syria is one of the key topics at the UN assembly with growing western calls for action against Assad. Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions which could have led to sanctions.
Obama vows to hunt killers of US ambassador to Libya
President Barack Obama vowed to hunt those behind the "attack on America" in Libya that killed the US ambassador and said a "disgusting" film that insulted Muslims was no excuse for violence.
"The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice," Obama told the UN General Assembly.
But while eulogizing US ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed two weeks ago along with three other Americans, Obama also styled the attack as not just an assault on America, but also on the ideals behind the United Nations.
"Today, we must affirm 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." In his annual speech to the world body, Obama again condemned the video produced by Coptic Christian extremists in the United States that set violence raging across the Arab world as "crude and disgusting." But he said that however vile, no exercise of free speech that is protected by the US Constitution could justify killing and violence.
"Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.
"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." Obama also warned that in 2012 "when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete." "The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence." "There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy."
Obama stresses Arab Spring 'progress'
Obama insisted there has been "progress" since the Arab Spring but said the recent turmoil in the Muslim world showed the hard task of achieving true democracy.
Under pressure over his handling of the Arab Spring from Republican opponents who have cast him as an apologist and an appeaser as they seek to oust him from office in November, Obama robustly defended his course.
Obama slammed the anti-Islamic film that has sparked unrest in Muslim countries as "disgusting" and vowed to hunt down those behind the attack in Benghazi that killed the US envoy to Libya and three other Americans.
But the president painted an optimistic overall picture of the current state of the Arab Spring, insisting that things were moving in the right direction despite the many challenges.
"So let us remember that this is a season of progress. For the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive, and fair," he said.
His upbeat message was framed in caution and contained a plea to Muslim leaders to work with the United States and the West towards truer, fairer democracy.
"The events of the last two weeks speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy," he said.
"Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue.
"Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represents the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims -- any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans," he said.
Obama warned that the turmoil of recent weeks showed how the path to democracy remained treacherous for many Arab Spring countries even after democratic elections.
"True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe," he said.
"It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.
"In other words, true democracy -- real freedom -- is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent. In hard economic times, countries may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform."