NEW YORK — President Barack Obama urged Libyans to continue pressing for democracy in remarks Tuesday at the United Nations, portraying the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi as a success story in the making, but underscoring perils ahead.
"Your task may be new, the journey ahead may be fraught with difficulty," Obama said in remarks aimed "directly to the people" of Libya. "But everything you need to build the future you seek already beats in the heart of your nation... To the Libyan people — this is your chance. And today the world is saying, in one unmistakable voice — we will stand with you as you seize this moment of promise, as you reach for the freedom, the dignity and the opportunity you deserve."
Obama's remarks come as Libya's National Transitional Council has failed to name a new cabinet, and Obama pressed for progress after a private meeting with Libyan Transitional National Council Chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, whom Obama said was committed to a peaceful transition.
"We all know what is needed," Obama said. "A transition that is timely. New laws and a constitution that uphold the rule of law. Political parties and a strong civil society. And, for the first time in Libyan history, free and fair elections."
Rebels have seized suspected Gadhafi loyalists and Obama warned against seeking violent retribution for the ousted leader's brutal rule, saying "as Libyans rightly seek justice for past crimes, let it be done in a spirit of reconciliation, not reprisals and violence."
He called for a rejection of violent extremism, "which offers nothing but death and destruction."
Jalil, who spoke just before Obama, said the council would "work toward a spirit of forgiveness" and pledged support for democracy and human rights.
"Libya reassures everyone that it will be a vibrant state that upholds peace and security in the region," he said through an interpreter to applause.
Obama acknowledged that the battle isnt yet over — "even as we speak, remnants of the old regime continue to fight," he said. "Difficult days are still ahead. But one thing is clear — the future of Libya is now in the hands of its people.
"None of this will be easy," Obama said. "After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya. I'm sure there will be days of frustration; when progress is slow; when some begin to wish for the old order and its illusion of stability.
"And some in the world may ask — can Libya succeed?," he said. "But if we have learned anything these many months, it is this — do not underestimate the aspirations and will of the Libyan people."
Obama announced that the U.S. ambassador would be returning to the Libyan capital of Tripoli and that the American flag that was lowered before the U.S. embassy was attacked will go back up this week, over the American embassy.
And he pledged that the U.S. would work with the new U.N. Support Mission in Libya "to assist the Libyan people in the hard work ahead.
He said the NATO-led security mission would continue and urged Gadafi loyalists to give up.
"Those still holding out must understand — the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya," he said.
He added that the U.S. will help the U.N. in humanitarian efforts to help Libyans recover from "the ravages of war."
The president celebrated Libya as a foreign policy success for the U.S., saying the international community has not always called it right, but "this time was different. This time, we found the courage and the collective will to act."
But he said the credit for the liberation of Libya belongs to Libyans, who, after "four decades of darkness," are now "writing a new chapter in the life of their nation.
"It was Libyan men, women — and children —who took to the streets in peaceful protest, faced down the tanks and endured the snipers' bullets," he said. "It was Libyan fighters, often outgunned and outnumbered, who fought pitched battles, town by town, block by block. It was Libyan activists — in the underground, in chat rooms and mosques — who kept a revolution alive, even after some in the world gave up hope."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow McClatchy on Twitter.