President Obama raises the stakes in the battle to thwart Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, telling the United Nations that time for diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation is not “unlimited”.
In an address to the UN general assembly clearly designed to rally domestic support ahead of the US presidential election in November, the US president paid tribute to the American diplomat, Chris Stevens, who was killed in the Libyan city of Benghazi after the release of an anti-Islamic film.
The ensuing violent protests which swept the world following the release of the film were, he said, an attack on the values of the United Nations as well as of the US.
But his harshest words were reserved for Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinjad. Despite efforts to resolve the nuclear situation through talks, he warned: “Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.
“Let me be clear: America wants to wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited… Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.
“The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
On Syria, Mr Obama said of President Assad: “The future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. 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.”
But he ruled out an international military response to the uprising to oust President Assad.
“We must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence,” he said. “Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision… we believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and legitimacy to lead.
Although President Obama described the US filmmaker’s Innocence of Muslims as “crude and disgusting”, and “an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well”, he justified the decision not to ban the film, saying that it would be against the American principles of freedom of speech.
President Obama also urged members to seek out the root causes of the violence, saying that those who decry the desecration of Muslim figures should also give the same treatment to the descration of Christian images and buildings.
Saying that Muslims have “suffered the most” from extremism, he said: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.
“Yet to be credible, 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.
“Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims.”
He also invoked the words of Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, saying it was time to heed his words that “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”