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Obama UN address hits back at Romney foreign policy jabs

  • U.S. President Barack Obama urged world leaders on Tuesday to rally against extremism in an address to the 67thUnited Nations General Assembly in New York.

    With six weeks to go until the November 6 presidential election, Obama set out to defend his foreign policy record following recent criticism from Republican rival Mitt Romney.

    Obama addressed both American voters and global leaders as he discussed topics ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to U.S.-Israeli relations and anti-America violence that has swept the Muslim world.

    The incumbent’s warning over Iran’s nuclear program was not only directed towards Tehran and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has pushed Washington to take a tougher stance, but also for pro-Israel voters who could help decide the vote in swing states like Florida and Ohio.

    "Let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited," Obama said.

    "The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he added.

    Iran says its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes.

    The incumbent’s take on recent political change to sweep across the Arab world was to welcome concepts of democracy and tolerance, a stark contrast to the anti-U.S. violence that has erupted across the region in the last two weeks over an American-produced amateur film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

    Obama’s message came as a counter attack to Republican accusations that he has apologized for America and weakened its world standing, according to political analysts.

    "I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day," Obama said, maintaining his condemnation of the video while simultaneously defending free speech. "And I will defend their right to do so."

    Much of the presidential campaign season has been dominated by the focus on the troubled economy, but in recent weeks foreign policy has been at the forefront in the wake of attacks the United States has suffered on its embassies across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

    The conflict in Syria also emerged as a focal point of debate at the UN’s headquarters as French President Francois Hollande vowed to recognize a new provisional government and called on the UN to protect liberated areas of the country.

    Obama echoed similar sentiments, calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    "As we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin," he said.

    Following his UN address, Republicans were quick to jump on Obama’s handling of global challenges.

    Paula Dobriansky, a Romney foreign policy adviser, said: "President Obama listed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Syria, and Iran as major challenges facing the international community. But those are three vital issues on which President Obama has unfortunately made no progress. The rhetoric doesn't match the policy."

    Obama widened his lead on Tuesday in the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll to 7 percentage points over Romney, up 1 point from the previous day, and now leads among likely voters 49 to 42 percent.

    Later in the day, both Romney and Obama delivered speeches to Bill Clinton's global charity.

    Romney told the Clinton Global Initiative, a foundation set up by the former Democratic president, that the United States needed to do more to encourage free enterprise in order to create jobs in the developing world.

    "A temporary aid package can jolt an economy. It can fund some projects. It can pay some bills. It can employ some people some of the time. But it can't sustain an economy, not for long,” Romney said.

    Speaking at the same venue a few hours later, Obama outlined new steps to fight human trafficking, which he described as “modern slavery”.