Obama: Film protests an assault on freedom


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The Independent Online

President Barack Obama challenged global leaders at the United Nations last night to "seize the moment" to repel the forces of extremism and violence and to defend tolerance and freedom, declaring that nations "face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes we hold in common".

While he used his last major speech on the world stage before the US elections to serve notice to Iran that time was running out for it to renounce nuclear arms and again to call for the removal of Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, Mr Obama chose to focus his remarks on recent turmoil in the Middle East ignited by a US-made video insulting Islam.

"The attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America," the President said after paying tribute to Chris Stevens, the US ambassador who was killed in Libya. "They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded – the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully, that diplomacy can take the place of war."

While repeating that the US government had nothing to do with the video, Mr Obama underscored America's attachment to freedom. "Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views," he said.

The mood here has been rendered sombre not just by the eruptions of violence of the past few weeks but also the war in Syria and the tension between Israel and Iran, issues that threaten to overshadow other business, including a meeting last night on the UN Millennium Development Goals co-chaired by David Cameron.

Mr Cameron, who will leave New York for Brazil today, was expected to reconfirm the Government's commitment to hit the UN's target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income in overseas assistance by 2013.

Mr Obama said containing a nuclear Iran could not be an option. An Iran with a nuclear arsenal would "threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy," he said. "And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." The President, however, stuck to the established policy of seeking compliance through sanctions.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, earlier implored delegates to take action to stop the civil war in Syria saying it was "a regional calamity with global ramifications".