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On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated.” The White House dismissed his comments as “disgusting.”
Without naming Ahmadinejad, Obama took a veiled swipe at him on Tuesday, saying the world must “leave behind” those who deny the Holocaust or reject Israel’s right to exist.
Obama also sought to reassure U.S. voters that he is doing everything he can to head off any more violence like the Sept. 11 attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three of his colleagues.
A wave of Muslim rage over an anti-Islam video made in California has swept the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Americans were stunned by images of U.S. flags again burning in the Muslim world, the focus of intense personal diplomacy by the president at the start of his term.
“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,” Obama told the assembled world leaders.
This eruption of violence has confronted Obama with the worst setback yet in his efforts to keep the Arab Spring revolutions from turning against the United States - and has demonstrated that he has few easy options.
In his speech, he faced the delicate task of articulating U.S. distaste for insults to any religion while at the same time insisting there is no excuse for a violent reaction - a distinction rejected by many Muslims.
The crisis has exposed a deep divide over the issues of free speech and blasphemy at a time when Islamist forces are in the political ascendant in the Middle East after several veteran dictators were ousted.
“There is no speech that justifies mindless violence,” Obama said. His audience listened mostly in polite silence, offering only a smattering of applause, but he drew laughter when he said that people say “awful things” about him every day and he accepts it.
Obama defended his approach to the Arab Spring but offered no detailed solutions to an array of crises that threaten to chip away at a foreign policy record that his aides hoped would be immune from Republican attack.