Obama opened his remarks with a tribute to slain UN Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed, alongside three other American diplomats in an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
- UNGA to focus on Iran's nuclear program Obama says 'blocking out' Israeli 'noise'
- US official: Nuclear bomb is our red line
"Chris embodied the best of American and was deeply embedded in what the United Nations represents," Obama said. "The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America... and there should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice."
"But the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America," he continued. "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; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.
"(…) Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations," he said. "We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values – they are universal values."
Obama strongly condemned the anti-Islam film that sparked anti-US Muslim rage worldwide: "This crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.
"I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.
"I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech… 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.
"Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with," he stressed, to a roaring round of applause. 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."
'Secure Israel, independent Palestine'
The events of the last two weeks, he continued, "Speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy.
"However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism. It is time to marginalize those who – even when not resorting to violence – use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.
"That brand of politics – one that pits East against West; South against North; Muslim against Christian, Hindu, and Jew – cannot deliver the promise of freedom," Obama stated.
"A politics based only on anger – one based on dividing the world between 'us and them' – not only sets back international cooperation, it ultimately undermines those who tolerate it.
"Extremists understand this. And because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They do not build, they only destroy," he said.
"The future," Obama stressed, "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. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: 'Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.'"
Turning his attention to the stalled Mideast peace process, Obama said: "Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, and those who reject the right of Israel to exist.
"The road is hard but the destination is clear – a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey," he said.
'Nuclear-armed Iran can't be contained'
"In Iran," Obama said, "We see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads. The Iranian people have a remarkable and ancient history, and many Iranians wish to enjoy peace and prosperity alongside their neighbors.
"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 resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.
"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 stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable.
"And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama stated.
"History shows that peace and progress come to those who make the right choices… In the tens of thousands who marched against violence through the streets of Benghazi; in the Libyans who changed their Facebook photo to one of Chris... They should give us hope. They should remind us that so long as we work for it justice will be done; that history is on our side; and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed."
Reuters and AP contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop