- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

NEW YORK — President Bush said yesterday that his “freedom agenda” remains the driving force for U.S. international policy, a day before his address to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he is expected to challenge the world to foster that vision in the Middle East.

“Those of us in a free society must help others realize the benefits of liberty. I believe that. I believe that’s part of America’s responsibility in the world,” Mr. Bush told a gathering of international education officials and government leaders’ spouses.

He joined first lady Laura Bush at the first White House Conference on Global Literacy, held at the New York Public Library, to lend support to his wife’s signature issue.

The gathering was a warm-up for today’s U.N. speech, during which the president is expected to push for a change in policies toward the Middle East, repeating his call that the world no longer should sacrifice freedom for stability.

With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking tonight, hours after Mr. Bush, the president is expected to use his time in New York to try to stiffen the resolve of the coalition working to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran ignored an Aug. 31 deadline imposed by the United Nations.

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said yesterday that the administration is letting the Europeans take the lead in talking with Iran and that the U.S. will rejoin the talks only after Iran suspends its program.

“What we’ve always said was not permanent suspension; what we’ve said is, a verifiable suspension so we can then have a discussion,” Mr. Hadley said.

Iran is just one of a series of international issues Mr. Bush will tackle during his three days here. News agencies reported yesterday that Mr. Bush will name a special envoy today to try to end the violence in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

Mr. Bush has labeled the killings there “genocide,” but other countries have been reluctant to follow suit. Under international conventions, once a “genocide” is under way, other nations have an obligation to stop it. The news agencies reported that Andrew Natsios, the former chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was Mr. Bush’s likely pick to be envoy.

Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet today with French President Jacques Chirac, whose nation is one of the three European countries spearheading the diplomatic efforts with Iran.

Yesterday, he met with leaders from Malaysia, Honduras, El Salvador and Tanzania, all democracies. Mr. Bush also has a meeting scheduled with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“He’s committed to peace, and we have worked with him and would continue to work with him. That’s why the president is going to see him,” Mr. Hadley said.

Dan Fisk, senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, said the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras backed the U.S. position in a fight over which nation will take the Latin America slot on the U.N. Security Council that Argentina will vacate at year’s end.

Anti-U.S. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, backed by Iran, wants the seat for his country, but the U.S. is backing Guatemala.

“Both countries — Salvador and Honduras — have expressed their support, by the way, for Guatemala in the U.N. Security Council. So that was reaffirmed by the other countries” in the meeting, Mr. Fisk said.

Mr. Bush touted the benefits of literacy yesterday, linking it to his freedom agenda. He said the ability to read makes for better workers, better consumers and better citizens.

“The goals of this country are to help those who feel hopeless; the goals of this country are to spread liberty; the goals of this country is to enhance prosperity and peace,” Mr. Bush said.

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