- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Bush today appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations.

On the sidelines, Mr. Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not.

But his speech to the United Nations General Assembly was less confrontational and aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States.

“My country desires peace,” Mr. Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the U.N. “Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam.”

Addressing Iraqis specifically, Mr. Bush said, “We will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation.”

Mr. Bush said Iran “must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak to the body later Tuesday, but he was not at the country’s table in the hall when Mr. Bush spoke.

Speaking to Iranians, Mr. Bush said their country’s future has been clouded because “your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation’s resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.”

On the crisis in Sudan’s violence-wracked region of Darfur, Mr. Bush delivered strong warnings to both the United Nations and the Sudanese government, saying that both must act now to avert further humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Bush said that if the Sudanese government does not withdraw its rejection of a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur, the world body should act over the government’s objections. The U.N. Security Council last month passed a resolution that would give the U.N. control over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, now run mostly ineffectively by the African Union. But Sudan has refused to give its consent.

“The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force,” Mr. Bush said.

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