President Obama at the Pentagon. (By MANDEL NGAN, AFP/Getty Images)
Chris Stevens (CNN)
NEW YORK (USA TODAY) - President Obama paid tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens in his address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday and called on the international community not to be disheartened by the violence that has spread across the Middle East this month.
In the aftermath of a terrorist attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans and anti-U.S. protests that have gripped the Muslim world, Obama told world leaders that the recent violence is "an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded."
"If we are serious about those ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis," Obama said. "Because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common."
Obama called on world leaders to condemn the violence that took the life of Stevens and three other Americans working on behalf of the U.S. mission in Libya.
"Today, we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens and not by his killers," Obama said. "Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations."
In recent days, White House aides have said Obama would use the speech to condemn an incendiary video that portrays the prophet Mohammed as a child molester and his followers as goons. But Obama also used the address to make the point that "no slander ... provides an excuse for people" to kill innocent people.
The president directly addressed critics in the Muslim world who questioned the Obama administration for not forcing YouTube to take down the video or taking action against the filmmakers. He argued that "the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech."
"I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech," Obama told world leaders. "Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cellphone 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offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.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 president also renewed his call for Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear program. Obama faces growing pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to articulate a red line Tehran must not cross with its nuclear program or risk facing a military strike.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has hammered Obama by saying he is not taking the threats in the Middle East seriously. The president used his address to push back against such criticism.
"America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so," Obama said. "But that time is not unlimited."