By Julie Mandoyan | September 26, 2012 - 18:00 GMT
US President Barack Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly’s annual General Debate, as part of the opening of its 67th session, was very much focused on the ‘Arab world’ and the territories to which it translates geographically. As such, it was reminiscent of his corresponding speech last year, when he congratulated the citizens of ‘Arab Spring’ touched countries for driving a transition to new political regimes. Yesterday (25 September), however, if the area of focus was similar, the tone was more preoccupied and less laudatory. Obama expressed his concerns about mounting tensions in the region.
Opening his speech with a reference to Chris Stevens, the US ambassador killed recently in Benghazi, Libya, was not an innocent reference. Stevens was murdered in attacks allegedly committed by terrorists affiliated to Al Qaeda. In the meantime, riots spread across the Muslim world targeting US diplomatic missions — notably in Egypt and Tunisia — after the trailer of The Innocence of Muslims found a viral audience. Yesterday, Obama reiterated his criticism of the movie, talking about a “crude and disgusting video.” Yet, he also took a firm stance in defense of freedom of speech — even of blasphemy.
Through continuous references to an individual who “embodied the best of America”, later explained as the “belief that individuals should be free to determine their own destiny, and live with liberty, dignity, justice, and opportunity”, Obama once again made a clear stand for freedom, redrawing the dividing line between those promoting hateful speech versus “tolerance”. Additionally, he explained that cooperation would be endangered if unwelcome, criticizing the politics of hatred: “burning an American flag will do nothing to educate a child.”
Another source of concern for the US in the Middle East is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. On that issue, like Mitt Romney, Obama showed clear support for Israel’s right and legitimacy to exist. Yet the campaigning President also differed from his challenger: on 20 September, Romney had said a Palestinian state would be “an unmitigated diplomatic disaster.” His point was short but straightforward. Noting the difficulties of negotiations and concessions, he explained that the only possible solution resided in two independent entities, “a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine.”
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