- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

President Bush on Tuesday assured world leaders at the United Nations that the U.S. government is taking bold steps to solve its economic crisis, but did not dwell on the issue in a speech that focused on fighting terrorism and promoting democracy.

“I can assure you that my administration and our Congress are working together to quickly pass legislation,” Mr. Bush said, as Vice President Dick Cheney and other top White House officials met with Republicans on Capitol Hill who are unhappy with the administration’s $700 billion rescue package.

Mr. Bush, who on Monday said that “the world is watching” his administration’s attempts to get agreements from both Democrats and Republicans by the end of this week, told the world leaders he was “confident we will act in the urgent time frame required.”

Congress slows on plan; markets wince

The president’s brief remarks on the economy [-] during his last speech as president to the U.N. general assembly [-] were in contrast to the grave tone of heads of state speaking before and after him.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the current situation “the most serious economic crisis that the world has experienced since that of the 1930s.”

Brazilian President Inicio Lula da Silva called the current situation a “harsh reality” and said that “the global nature of this crisis means the solutions we adopt must also be global.”

Student car debt quietly added

Observers, and some of those meeting on the sidelines of the 63rd general assembly meeting, were unperturbed by Mr. Bush’s brief focus on the U.S. economy.

“I saw a fairly long part and it was all about terrorism,” said Ajit Ranade, chief economist at Aditya Birla Group, an Indian corporation headquartered in Mumbai. It might have been premature for the president to say something that would affect negotiations [on Capitol Hill], Mr. Ranade said.

Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, said “it was probably important not to make anything more than a passing reference to our financial distress so as not to further unsettle world markets, which sometimes react wildly even to the most diplomatic nuance, let alone to the blunt-spoken Texas idiom in which the president speaks.”

Robert Colorina, an American private equity executive, said that Mr. Bush was “saying what needs to be said,” though he added that the his speech was “not a slam dunk.”

In fact, Mr. Bush began his speech on the topic of global terrorism and urged the U.N. to reform itself “where there is inefficiency and corruption” [-] more than familiar themes for him and for the audience of delegates.

One Arab diplomat said Mr. Bush “lectured people about the thing they hate,” adding that the president should have talked more about U.S. aid to Africa.

But Mr. Kmiec, an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, called the president’s focus on global terrorism “right on target” and “forward-looking.” The glaring omission in the president’s speech was the lack of any reference to global warming.

His rhetoric about the U.N. was much softer than in speeches past. There were no comments similar to the one in 2002 that the U.N. was in danger of becoming “irrelevant.”

“The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are needed more urgently than ever,” Mr. Bush, referring to the body as “an organization of extraordinary potential.”

Mr. Bush’s most confrontational comments were reserved for Russia. He called the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia in August a “violation” of the United Nations charter, pointing to a passage in the document that “sets forth the ‘equal rights of nations large and small.’”

LIVE AP FEED:IE users only: Bush speaks at the United Nations

“Young democracies around the world are watching to see how we respond to this test,”Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush did not call for specific actions toward Russia.

Foreign leaders did not hesitate to offer their opinion, however, on who is to blame for America’s economic woes. Several heads of state had harsh words for financial speculators and CEO’s who might receive generous settlement payments.

Mr. da Silva denounced the possibility that the losses of wealthy executives would be “socialized.”

“We must not allow the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all,” he said.

Mr. Sarkozy also said that “those who place in jeopardy peoples savings need to be punished.”

The Bush administration has resisted congressional calls to limit pay for CEO’s of failed financial firms, saying it might prompt executives not to cooperate with the bailout plan and hurt the government’s efforts to fix the problem.

Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner, President of Argentina, made comments critical of free market conservatives. She denounced “a casino economy or an economy of fiction where it was thought that only capitalism can produce money.

Money on its own does not produce more money. It has to go through the circuit of production, work, knowledge, services and goods, she said.

Mr. Bush said earlier in the day to reporters that he had been sought out by world leaders looking for reassurances that his administrations economic rescue plan will work.

“One of the things I’ve heard here in my stay thus far in New York is from world leaders wondering whether or not the United States has the right plan to deal with this economic crisis,” Mr. Bush said, during a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

“And I’ve assured them that the plan laid out by [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson is a robust plan to deal with a serious problem,” he said.

Global leaders have also raised questions, he said, about whether Democrats in Congress will agree to pass a bill quickly, as debate on Capitol Hill has already caused markets to dive this week.

“I’m confident,” the president said, “that there will be a bipartisan bill … to address the financial situation and provide a rescue plan to make sure that there’s some stability in the markets.”

The White House laid down an even more strict line than Mr. Bush, stressing that, in their view, Congress must pass legislation by the end of this week.

“There should be no question out there that this plan will get done this week,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto on a conference call. “We are very, very confident that it will get done this week. We believe it needs to get done this week.”

Mr. Fratto said it is “unthinkable” that Congress would work into next week on the rescue plan.

“It would be a very, very serious situation for our economy were we not to get this legislation passed.”

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