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Obama on Middle East: 'Democracy is not just casting a ballot'

September 18, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Egyptian voters line up at a polling station in Cairo during elections in May. President Obama said young democracies in the Middle East must learn to respect freedom of speech and diverse views.
Egyptian voters line up at a polling station in Cairo during elections in… (Amr Nabil / Associated Press )

Arguing that “democracy is not just casting a ballot,” President Obama  said fledgling governments in the Arab world must also respect freedom of speech and tolerate diverse views, condemning continued violence that has been attributed to a controversial anti-Islam video.

In an interview with CBS’ David Letterman on the "Late Show," Obama also said that his administration is committed to “reinforcing” security at its diplomatic posts in the Middle East and bringing those responsible for the deaths of diplomatic personnel in Libya “to justice.”

"The message we have to send to the Muslim world is that we expect you to work with us, to keep our people safe, and as offensive as this video was -- and obviously we denounced it, the United States government had nothing to do with it -- that's never an excuse for violence,” Obama said.

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Obama’s comments come as a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found diminished support for the president’s handling of foreign policy, which has long been a strong point for him compared with other areas, most significantly the economy.

Last month, 54% said they approved of Obama’s handling of foreign policy. Now, that figure has dropped to 49%, while 46% disapprove.

Overall, the survey showed Obama with a 50% to 45% advantage over Mitt Romney among likely voters, and an overall job rating of 50% for the first time since March.

The Romney campaign has maintained that, despite criticism of the Republican presidential  nominee’s response to the violence at U.S. diplomatic posts, the unrest would lead voters to reevaluate Obama’s record on national security and foreign policy.

The president told Letterman that Americans “always stand on the side of democracy.”

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“We want people to have opportunity to determine their own fates, their own destinies, but the message we have to send, I think, to the Muslim world is, we expect you to work with us to keep our people safe,” he said.

“Part of what they’re going to have to do is to recognize that democracy is not just casting a ballot, it’s respecting freedom of speech and tolerating people with different points of view, and it means that you’ve got to make sure that you never have any excuses for the kind of violence against innocents we saw last week. And that’s a message that I’ve sent very clearly to the leaders of various countries, and we expect their full cooperation, because that’s the only way the international order works.”

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikememoli

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