- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NEW YORK — President Bush yesterday told Iranians they deserve a better government than they are getting, and he told Muslims worldwide to ignore radical “propaganda and conspiracy theories” that incite them to killing and terrorism.

But just hours later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the U.N. General Assembly that the world’s conflicts are the result of aggression by the U.S., Israel and other wealthy nations, and said the set-up of the United Nations is fundamentally unfair.

The biggest security crisis in the world took center stage as the two leaders spoke in the diplomatic version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Mr. Ahmadinejad called out the U.S. and Britain by name, and taunted Mr. Bush, saying “the occupiers are incapable of establishing security in Iraq.”

For his part Mr. Bush talked around the Iranian leader, using his 20-minute noontime address in the General Assembly’s cavernous green chamber to “speak directly to the people across the broader Middle East.”

“Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam,” he said. “This propaganda is false, and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror.”

The speech was the last of a series Mr. Bush has been delivering over the past three weeks on the war on terror. In the earlier speeches, he challenged Congress and U.S. voters to give him the tools he wants to fight Islamic terrorists, but in yesterday’s speech he made clear he expects other countries to join the U.S. fight worldwide.

“Will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East — or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists? America has made its choice: We will stand with the moderates and reformers,” he said.

He mentioned three U.N. resolutions — on disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon, calling on Iran to end its nuclear-weapons program, and on expanding the peacekeeping force in the Darfur region of Sudan — and said the world body must now meet its commitments.

Mr. Bush had specific words for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Darfur. He also warned Syrians their “rulers have allowed your country to become a crossroad for terrorism.” But he saved his harshest words for Iran’s leaders, telling Iranians that Americans respect them and their culture but “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.”

He spoke to a full chamber, while the chamber was mostly empty for Mr. Ahmadinejad. The two leaders never crossed paths, as the Iranian missed yesterday’s leaders’ lunch, and Mr. Bush hosted a closed reception during the Iranian’s speech.

Mr. Ahmadinejad questioned the fairness of the United Nations, saying the Security Council had failed the Palestinians for years, and failed Lebanon this year.

“The Security Council sat idly by for so many days,” he said, adding that the reason is clear. “When the power behind the hostility is itself a permanent member of the Security Council, how then could this council fulfill its responsibilities?”

Iran has defied a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed an Aug. 31 deadline for suspending its uranium-enrichment program. But the six nations leading the effort to block Iran’s program have not been able to agree on what the next step should be.

In his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad insisted Iran’s nuclear activities were “transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eye” of U.N. inspectors and accused the U.S. of a double standard in criticizing his country’s program while maintaining its own nuclear weapons arsenal.

At home, Mr. Bush is facing a slightly better political environment seven weeks before the congressional elections. A Gallup-USA Today poll released yesterday showed him with a 44 percent approval rating, and found that likely voters are now as likely to support a Republican as a Democrat for Congress in November. Both numbers are substantial improvements for Republicans.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean yesterday said that Mr. Bush’s speech sounded “worried more about his party’s political prospects this November than about how to protect America and fight and win the real war on terror.”

He said if other nations are wary of joining Mr. Bush’s calls for action on Sudan and Iran it’s the president’s fault. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s speech spoke “in broad, general terms,” but didn’t show a commitment to the hard work of diplomacy in the Middle East.

In Washington, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. point man in the Iran sanctions negotiations, told Congress yesterday he was convinced the international coalition was ready to impose sanctions if Tehran balks.

“We must pass the sanctions resolution, or else the credibility of the U.N. Security Council on the leading issue of our day — and we consider it the leading security issue — is going to be called into question,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Still, a senior White House official said sanctions will not happen unless European nations fail in their bid to get Tehran to the negotiating table in exchange for a suspension of moves toward U.N. sanctions. Judy Ansley, senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council, said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is trying “right now” to persuade Iran to engage in talks on that basis.

“You start the negotiations, the Iranians agree to suspend their enrichment activities, and in exchange, the United Nations will agree to suspend activities at the Security Council as negotiations go forward,” she said, adding that “sanctions will be only if that fails.”

• David R. Sands in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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