- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

President Bush’s address to the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting in New York Tuesday touched on a sundry list of problems and solutions, as well as heroes and villains in the broader Middle East.

Overall, Mr. Bush’s speech was one of optimism as he looked ahead to a better future for the world’s people, despite some major setbacks in U.S. foreign policy. “As liberty flourishes … we’re seeing that bright future begin to take root in the broader Middle East,” said Mr. Bush. He spoke of a tougher reality in a troubled part of the world. “The reality we thought of the Middle East was a mirage,” said Mr. Bush, who called some of the changes in the area “dramatic.”

Since September 11, 2001, Mr. Bush said, “The enemies of humanity have continued their campaign of murder.” But as the world moves further into the 21st century, the president said, “It is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear and moderate people who work for peace.”

The president alluded to Middle East changes that are gradual. “But they are real,” he said. He singled out Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt, where elections have been held, in some form or other. “This is still the great challenge of our time,” said Mr. Bush. “It is the calling of our generation.”

The president envisaged a world without terror. Addressing the people of the world directly, Mr. Bush asked people living in oppressed countries not to digest everything their governments say. “You have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country’s shortcomings,” said Mr. Bush.

He said, “When people have a voice in their future they are less likely to blow themselves up in suicide attacks.” However, hope must be given to some men and women “who want the same thing for their children that we do for ours.”

Reaching out to the Muslim world, Mr. Bush said: “We respect Islam and we will protect our people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction.”

He then addressed a number of Middle Eastern countries individually.

To the people of Iraq: “Your courage fills us with admiration. We will not abandon you and your struggle to build a free nation. Working together we will help your democracy succeed so that it can become a beacon of hope for millions of people in the Muslim world.”

The people of Afghanistan: “We have watched you build a democratic government. We will continue to stand with you to defend your democratic gains.”

To the people of Lebanon: “Last year you inspired the world when you came out into the street to demand your independence from Syrian dominance. For many years Lebanon was a model of democracy and pluralism and openness in the region, and it will be again.”

To the people of Iran: “The United States respects you. We respect your country; we admire your rich history, your vibrant culture and your many contributions to civilization. You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future.”

However, on Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Mr. Bush was unmovable. “Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions,” he said. “We have no objections to Iran’s pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program.” But injecting a ray of hope, he said, “We are working towards a diplomatic solution to this crisis.”

To the people of Syria: “Today your rulers have allowed your country to become a crossroad for terrorism.”

To the people of Darfur: “My nation has called the atrocities what they are: genocide. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act. Your lives and the credibility of the United Nations are at stake.”

Finally, Mr. Bush touched on the crucial issue of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: “I am committed to two democratic states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security. I’m committed to a Palestinian state that has territorial integrity and that can live peacefully with the Jewish state of Israel.

“I believe peace can be achieved. From Beirut to Baghdad people are making the choice for freedom.”

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the Assembly later in the day, asked: “Would it not be easier for global powers to ensure their longevity and win hearts and minds through the championing of real promotion of justice, compassion and peace, than through continuing the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and the threat of their use?”

The Iranian president said, “The abuse of the Security Council, as an instrument of threat and coercion, is indeed a source of grave concern.

“Threats with nuclear weapons and other instruments of war by some powers have taken the place of respect for the rights of nations and the maintenance and promotion of peace and tranquility.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad didn’t mention the United States by name except in attacking the ineffectiveness of the U.N. Security Council, dominated by permanent members, whom he called “the winners of World War II.” Mr. Ahmadinejad said the Security Council should be reformed. “The Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African continent should each have a representative” as a veto-holding permanent council member, he urged.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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