- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

UNITED NATIONS | President Bush on Tuesday assured world leaders that the United States is taking “bold steps” to solve its economic crisis, but spent most of his speech dwelling on his familiar themes of combating terrorism and promoting democracy.

Although Mr. Bush was making his final appearance before the world body, the U.S. financial crisis diverted much of the attention at the annual meeting of heads of state. Mr. Bush also competed for media attention with Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Mrs. Palin, who until last year did not have a passport, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the sidelines of the gathering. Republican campaign aides initially blocked reporters from the start of the meetings. Spokesmen said Mrs. Palin, who is preparing for a debate next month, discussed the need for more troops in Afghanistan and energy security.

Mr. Bush told fellow heads of state, “I can assure you that my administration and our Congress are working together to quickly pass legislation” to deal with the U.S. financial meltdown. Those remarks, however, were made at the end of the president’s speech and comprised only two of 32 paragraphs.

The brief reference to the economy contrasted with the remarks of other leaders.

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 Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the world was facing a “harsh reality” and that “the global nature of this crisis means the solutions we adopt must also be global.”

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner 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.”

White House officials said the focus of Mr. Bush’s was properly measured, and they pointed to more extensive comments the president made earlier Tuesday.

“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.”

Mr. Bush said he was confident “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.”

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

Some observers said Mr. Bush may have given less emphasis to the economy in his speech to avoid further spooking the markets or interfering with congressional deliberations on the $700 billion bailout plan.

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

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 Mr. Bush was “saying what needs to be said,” though he added that the speech was “not a slam-dunk.”

Mr. Bush began by denouncing terrorism and urging the United Nations to reform itself “where there is inefficiency and corruption” - familiar themes during his presidency.

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

Mr. Bush made no mention of climate change, a major focus for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many U.N. members. However, his comments about the United Nations were softer than in 2002, when he said the world body was in danger of becoming “irrelevant.”

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

Mr. Bush reserved his harshest comments for Russia. He called the Russian invasion of Georgia in August a violation of the U.N. Charter.

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


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