Obama defends Libya action, says US is 'proud' of its role

President Obama declared Tuesday the Libyan people are "free from a tyrant" even though ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi remains on the loose.

Speaking at the United Nations, Obama announced he is sending the U.S. ambassador back to Libya, and the American embassy there will reopened this week.

Obama came under fire from Congress and Republican presidential candidates for intervening in Libya, with several saying the U.S. should not involve itself in another war. But he defended those actions Tuesday, saying the U.S. was "proud to play a decisive role, especially in the first days, and, then, in a supporting capacity."

The president is in New York City on a three-day trip that includes an address to the U.N. general assembly, multiple meetings with foreign leaders and several fundraisers for his reelection campaign. Tuesday morning he was at a high-level meeting with U.N. officials and other world leaders on the situation in Libya.

In March, the U.N. Security Council authorized mulitilateral military operations in Libya. The president used that to defend U.S. involvement, saying it was an international mission instead of a solo one.

He reiterated the joint work Tuesday.

"Our international coalition stopped the regime in its tracks, saved countless lives, and gave the Libyan people the time and space to prevail," Obama said, according to prepared remarks released by the White House.

The president warned that "difficult days are still ahead," but promised that the U.S. will be a friend and partner to Libya as it implements reforms and grows as a democracy.

Obama repeatedly credited the Libyan people for taking the lead in ousting Gadhafi, even as he applauded the international effort to support the rebels.

"This is how the international community should work in the 21st century — more nations bearing the responsibility and costs of meeting global challenges," Obama said. "Indeed, it is the very purpose of this United Nations. So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives we saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country.  It was the right thing to do."

Three days ago the U.N. gave Libya's seat to the former rebels' National Transitional Council, which the U.S. now recognizes as Libya's official government.