Obama address
US President Barack Obama's invitation to ASEAN leaders for a meeting in California has been accepted. Picture: Barack Obama at the end of the year news conference at the White House in Washington.Reuters

US President Barack Obama justified the American position on promoting regime change in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, but maintained that the United States did not trigger the movement. 

At his year-end press conference on Friday, Obama hit out at arguments by some Republican Party members that American security had become vulnerable because of regime changes in countries such as Libya and Egypt. 

Responding to a journalist's query if he would advise future presidents to call for authoritarian leaders to step down, Obama said that the United States should "speak out on behalf of its values". 

"We didn't trigger the Arab Spring," the US President said, just a day after the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring -- an uprising that spread across the Middle East and toppled regimes. 

"We did not depose Hosni Mubarak. Millions of Egyptians did, because of their dissatisfaction with the corruption and authoritarianism of the regime," he said. 

Obama also defended his decision to participate in coalition airstrikes in Libya in 2011, claiming that "we could have had another Syria in Libya now". He, however, did acknowledge the failure of the United States, and the international community, in "not moving swiftly enough" to bring in a new regime. 

"Those who now argue, in retrospect, we should have left Qaddafi in there seem to forget that he had already lost legitimacy and control of his country, and we could have -- instead of what we have in Libya now, we could have had another Syria in Libya now," the US President said. 

"The problem with Libya was the fact that there was a failure on the part of the entire international community -- and I think that the United States has some accountability for not moving swiftly enough and underestimating the need to rebuild government there quickly -- and as a consequence, you now have a very bad situation," he said. 

On Syria, Obama challenged the standard Russian position, as well as what he said was a stance taken by some Republicans that "Assad is not so bad". 

"I think that Assad is going to have to leave in order for the country to stop the bloodletting and for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a non-sectarian way. He has lost legitimacy in the eyes of a large majority of the country," he said when asked if he saw Syrian President Bashar Assad staying in power for another year.

Obama's remarks on Syria came on the day when the United Nations Security Council jointly backed a peace deal for Syria without clearly outlining Assad's fate. 

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