US President Barack Obama has urged global leaders to rally against extremism in an address to the UN General Assembly in New York. Mr Obama said it was the obligation of all leaders to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism, as he framed his speech with references to the US ambassador murdered in Libya.
Mr Obama also again stressed the US would not allow Iran nuclear weapons. He said the US would “do what we must” to stop Tehran acquiring nuclear arms. Six weeks before the US election, the president said a nuclear-armed Iran was “not a challenge that can be contained”. Unrest across the Middle East is set to dominate discussion at the summit.
Iran’s nuclear programme and the 18-month conflict in Syria have featured strongly in Tuesday’s speeches at the Assembly, as have the recent protests across the Muslim world in response to a US-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The US president condemned the violence that erupted over the “disgusting” anti-Islam video as “an attack on UN ideals”.
Referring to the US envoy that was killed in Benghazi on 11 September during protests sparked by the video, Mr Obama challenged the UN to affirm that “our future will be determined by people like Christopher Stevens and not by his killers”. “It is time to marginalise those who – even when not resorting to violence – use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics,” said Mr Obama.
The brand of politics that pits East against West, South against North, Muslim against Christian, Hindu and Jew, could not deliver the promise of freedom, he added. “That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together: educating our children and creating the opportunities they deserve; protecting human rights and extending democracy’s promise. “Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.”
Syria’s conflict is not formally on the General Assembly’s agenda but was a focal point of discussion on the opening day. Two things are almost certain about this year’s debate at the UN General Assembly: it will be overshadowed by crises in the Middle East, and world leaders who have descended on New York will not be able to solve them. They are not even officially on the agenda. First, there are the roiling anti-American protests caused by the video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad.