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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
President Obama remarks to UN GA 25 September 2012

...a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous
Palestine...through a just agreement between the parties...

..the Iranian government...[T]ime 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... 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...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’s why a coalition of
countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the
United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 25, 2012
Remarks by the President to the UN General Assembly
United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York
10:22 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates,
ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an
American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a
lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and
taught English in Morocco. And he came to love and respect the people of
North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout
his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia
to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he
worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could,
speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile.

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving
on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people
as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a
vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected.
And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as
Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move
forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and
he saw dignity in the people that he met. And two weeks ago, he traveled to
Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a
hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with
three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to
save. He was 52 years old.

I tell you this story because Chris Stevens embodied the best of America.
Like his fellow Foreign Service officers, he built bridges across oceans and
cultures, and was deeply invested in the international cooperation that the
United Nations represents. He acted with humility, but he also stood up for
a set of principles -- a belief that individuals should be free to determine
their own destiny, and live with liberty, dignity, justice, and opportunity.

The attacks on the civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are
grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and from
the Libyan people. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in
tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. And I also
appreciate that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the
region -- including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen -- have taken steps to secure
our diplomatic facilities, and called for calm. And so have religious
authorities around the globe.

But understand, the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault
on America. 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; that in an
interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater
opportunity and security for our citizens.

If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put
more guards in front of an embassy, or to put out statements of regret and
wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about these ideals, we must
speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis -- because we face a
choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we
hold in common.

Today, we must reaffirm 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.

It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on
fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what
became known as the Arab Spring. And since then, the world has been
captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States
has supported the forces of change.

We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because
we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to
the streets.

We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately
put us on the side of the people.

We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen, because the interests of
the people were no longer being served by a corrupt status quo.

We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of
the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the
slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the
people were more powerful than a tyrant.

And 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.

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. And even as
there will be huge challenges to come with a transition to democracy, I am
convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for
the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and
individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.

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. This democratic spirit has not
been restricted to the Arab world. Over the past year, we’ve seen peaceful
transitions of power in Malawi and Senegal, and a new President in Somalia.
In Burma, a President has freed political prisoners and opened a closed
society, a courageous dissident has been elected to parliament, and people
look forward to further reform. Around the globe, people are making their
voices heard, insisting on their innate dignity, and the right to determine
their future.

And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy
does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said: "To
be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that
respects and enhances the freedom of others." (Applause.)

True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of
what they believe, and that businesses can be opened without paying a bribe.
It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble
without fear, and 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 dissidents. In hard
economic times, countries must be tempted -- may be tempted to rally the
people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on
the painstaking work of reform.

Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress -- dictators
who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend on the status quo, and
extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland
to South Asia, from Africa to the Americas, from the Balkans to the Pacific
Rim, we’ve witnessed convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new
political order.

At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe. And
often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith
with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every
country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening;
in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves
how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.

That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and
disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, 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 -- for as the
city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed
people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship
across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have
laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or
what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video
because millions of our citizens are among them.

I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And the
answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to
practice free speech.

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. 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 -- (laughter) -- and I will always defend their
right to do so. (Applause.)

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all
people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with.
We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders
understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to
express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We
do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly
become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.

We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that
religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful
speech is not repression; it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that
rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding
and mutual respect.

Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular
understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in
2012, at a time 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 do we

And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless
violence. (Applause.) There are no words that excuse the killing of
innocents. There's no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.
There's no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant
in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in

In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way
to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to
create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that’s how we

More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for
all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab
world that is moving towards democracy.

Now, let me be clear: 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. 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 represent the views of the
overwhelming majority of Muslims, any more than the views of the people who
produced this video represents those of Americans. However, I do believe
that it is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out
forcefully against violence and extremism. (Applause.)

It is time to marginalize those who -- even when not directly resorting to
violence -- use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central
organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes
makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence.

That brand of politics -- one that pits East against West, and South against
North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews -- can’t deliver on the
promise of freedom. To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an
American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart
a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t
create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve
what we must do together: educating our children, and creating the
opportunities that they deserve; protecting human rights, and extending
democracy’s promise.

Understand America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice
to those who harm our citizens and our friends, and we will stand with our
allies. We are willing to partner with countries around the world to deepen
ties of trade and investment, and science and technology, energy and
development -- all efforts that can spark economic growth for all our people
and stabilize democratic change.

But such efforts depend on a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect.
No government or company, no school or NGO will be confident working in a
country where its people are endangered. For partnerships to be effective
our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcomed.

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. All of us have an interest in
standing up to these forces.

Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of
extremism. On the same day our civilians were killed in Benghazi, a Turkish
police officer was murdered in Istanbul only days before his wedding; more
than 10 Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana’a; several Afghan children
were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide
bomber in Kabul.

The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the
West, but over time it cannot be contained. The same impulses toward
extremism are used to justify war between Sunni and Shia, between tribes and
clans. It leads not to strength and prosperity but to chaos. In less than
two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to
Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. And extremists
understand this. Because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of
people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They don’t build; they
only destroy.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division
behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the
future, or the prisons of the past. And we cannot afford to get it wrong.
We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who
are willing to embrace a better future.

The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt --
it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted, "Muslims,
Christians, we are one." The future must not belong to those who bully
women -- it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand
for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.

The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s
resources -- it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs, the workers
and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are
the women and men that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But
to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we
see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are
destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied. (Applause.)

Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims. It’s
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." (Applause.)
Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our
differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that’s
the vision we will support.

Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who
turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who
thrive on conflict, 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. (Applause.) 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.

In Syria, 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, peaceful
protest, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at
apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began
with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian

Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different
vision -- 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’s what America
stands for. 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. Because we believe that the Syrians who
embrace this vision will have the strength and the legitimacy to lead.

In Iran, 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. But
just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government
continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups
abroad. 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.

So 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. And 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’s why a coalition of
countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the
United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear

We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity
does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for
human rights. That’s why this institution was established from the rubble
of conflict. That is why liberty triumphed over tyranny in the Cold War.
And that is the lesson of the last two decades as well.

History shows that peace and progress come to those who make the right
choices. Nations in every part of the world have traveled this difficult
path. Europe, the bloodiest battlefield of the 20th century, is united,
free and at peace. From Brazil to South Africa, from Turkey to South Korea,
from India to Indonesia, people of different races, religions, and
traditions have lifted millions out of poverty, while respecting the rights
of their citizens and meeting their responsibilities as nations.

And it is because of the progress that I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime,
the progress that I’ve witnessed after nearly four years as President, that
I remain ever hopeful about the world that we live in. The war in Iraq is
over. American troops have come home. We’ve begun a transition in
Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in
2014. Al Qaeda has been weakened, and Osama bin Laden is no more. Nations
have come together to lock down nuclear materials, and America and Russia
are reducing our arsenals. We have seen hard choices made -- from Naypyidaw
to Cairo to Abidjan -- to put more power in the hands of citizens.

At a time of economic challenge, the world has come together to broaden
prosperity. Through the G20, we have partnered with emerging countries to
keep the world on the path of recovery. America has pursued a development
agenda that fuels growth and breaks dependency, and worked with African
leaders to help them feed their nations. New partnerships have been forged
to combat corruption and promote government that is open and transparent,
and new commitments have been made through the Equal Futures Partnership to
ensure that women and girls can fully participate in politics and pursue
opportunity. And later today, I will discuss our efforts to combat the
scourge of human trafficking.

All these things give me hope. But what gives me the most hope is not the
actions of us, not the actions of leaders -- it is the people that I’ve
seen. The American troops who have risked their lives and sacrificed their
limbs for strangers half a world away; the students in Jakarta or Seoul who
are eager to use their knowledge to benefit mankind; the faces in a square
in Prague or a parliament in Ghana who see democracy giving voice to their
aspirations; the young people in the favelas of Rio and the schools of
Mumbai whose eyes shine with promise. These men, women, and children of
every race and every faith remind me that for every angry mob that gets
shown on television, there are billions around the world who share similar
hopes and dreams. They tell us that there is a common heartbeat to

So much attention in our world turns to what divides us. That’s what we see
on the news. That's what consumes our political debates. But when you
strip it all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their
destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with
faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people --
and not the other way around.

The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for
our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding
purpose. That is what our history shows. That is what Chris Stevens worked
for throughout his life.

And I promise you this: Long after the killers are brought to justice,
Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives that he touched -- 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;
in the signs that read, simply, "Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans."

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.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

10:16 A.M. EDT

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