UNITED NATIONSâ€”President Barack Obama, his policies facing tests abroad and political pressures at home, defended his handling of the uprisings that have swept the Middle East as he took a turn on the world stage ahead of the November election.
The president’s address on Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly was his first detailed response to the violence and protests that erupted in the Middle East and North Africa after circulation this month of a video made in the U.S. mocking the Muslim faith’s Prophet Muhammad.
The speech also was an opportunity for world leaders to hear the U.S. leader’s current assessment of democracy in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and other countries once under autocratic rule, but now run by new leaders grappling to control long-repressed and often rebellious populations.
In his U.N. speech one year ago, Mr. Obama hailed a “remarkable year” of democratic progress. This year, he confronted a new set of circumstancesâ€”especially the outburst of violenceâ€”and said the U.S. expects Arab and Muslim countries to take seriously their responsibilities as democratic leaders, and to aggressively police Islamic extremism and religiously driven hate speech.
“True democracyâ€”real freedomâ€”is hard work,” Mr. Obama said. “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent. In hard economic times, countries may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”
Mr. Obama addressed an array of issues, warning Iran and Syria that the U.S. and its allies are united in their efforts to deny Tehran a nuclear bomb and to deprive Damascus the arms and funding for its military crackdown. However, he didn’t outline any specific new steps Washington might take, as some allies had hoped and adversaries have urged.
“While statements of support are welcome, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians continues unchecked, and we need action more than words,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a spokesman for the opposition Coalition for a Democratic Syria.
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