- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2012

His expected campaign advantage on foreign-policy issues suddenly in doubt, President Obama at the United Nations on Tuesday portrayed the deaths of four Americans in Libya as a result of inflamed tensions over an anti-Islam movie produced in the U.S. rather than a terrorist attack aimed at his policies in dealing with the Arab Spring and Middle East unrest.

Although his administration in recent days acknowledged that the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were caused by a terrorist act on Sept. 11, Mr. Obama didn’t mention terrorism as the likely motive in front of an international audience at the U.N. General Assembly’s annual gathering. After referencing the killing of the ambassador, Mr. Obama focused much of his speech on promoting religious tolerance and free speech, blaming the film for provoking the anti-U.S. outbursts while saying there is never an excuse for violence.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

The White House has sparred in recent days with the campaign of GOP challenger Mitt Romney over whether the administration was too quick to condemn the U.S.-based makers of the film instead of the radical Islamic elements in the region who responded with violent protests that resulted in some 40 deaths across the region.

Mr. Obama also said there is “still time and space” to resolve the international impasse over Iran’s suspect nuclear programs, although “that time is not unlimited” for Tehran to make a deal.

He also said it is time for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in the face of a raging popular revolt.

“Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Mr. Obama said. “It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the unraveling of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who addresses the U.N. gathering Wednesday, sounded a defiant note in a meeting with reporters Monday, while Iranian military leaders in Tehran released details of a long-range drone and test-fired four anti-ship missiles in a prelude to upcoming naval war games planned in an apparent response to U.S.-led warship drills in the Persian Gulf.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked up on Mr. Obama’s warnings over Syria, telling world leaders that international action was needed to end the violence in the 18-month-old conflict that, he said, has become “a regional calamity with global ramifications.”

“The international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control,” Mr. Ban said.

Shifting story

Downplaying the role of terrorism in the Libya attack was yet another shift in Mr. Obama’s explanation for the violence. In the days after the assault, the administration blamed the reports of the anti-Islamic video. Then last week, U.S. officials began to acknowledge that the attack bore the signs of terrorism.

The Libyan prime minister said the attack on the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi was planned, and the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said there was reason to believe that al Qaeda or its affiliates carried out the killings.

Even on Monday, while taping a TV segment of “The View” in New York, Mr. Obama indicated that the Libyan attack was the work of terrorists.

“There’s no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action,” Mr. Obama said.

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