At U.N., Bush Is Grateful for World's Katrina Aid

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At a summit marking 60 years of the United Nations, President Bush thanks the 115 countries that have offered help since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last month. The president also stressed the fight against terrorism and the need for open trade.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

When President Bush addressed a new session of the United Nations General Assembly today, there was a new tenor to his words. He called for a drastic reduction in tariffs around the world to increase trade and to raise poor nations out of poverty, and he took time to thank the international community for the offers of support that have poured in since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He still pressed world leaders to work aggressively to stop the spread of terrorism and the spread of dangerous weapons, and he also had criticism about how the UN has conducted some of its own affairs. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from New York.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Besides his main address today, the president used this visit to New York to hold one-on-one meetings with leaders of China, Israel and Great Britain, and he spoke to the Security Council of the UN. But while all UN meetings are about international relations, the dominant US story of the past two-plus weeks was very much on everyone's mind. And this morning when the president addressed a summit of world leaders, he began by talking about Hurricane Katrina, expressing gratitude for the outpouring of support from more than 115 countries.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: To every nation, every province and every community across the world that is standing with the American people in this hour of need, I offer the thanks of my nation.

GONYEA: This latest speech by the president to the UN had a different tone from that of previous addresses he's delivered here. In the past, especially when making the case for the war in Iraq, he seemed to be lecturing the world body. Today, the president was more low key, in keeping with the mood in the storm-ravaged states on the Gulf Coast and in Iraq, where suicide bombings claimed the biggest one-day toll in 18 months. But Mr. Bush again defended his policies in Iraq, saying the entire world has a vital interest in the success of democracy there. And he defended anew the decision to invade that country, a decision that was not backed by the UN. Without mentioning such differences, the American president strove to put the war in a broader context.

Pres. BUSH: Sometimes our security will require confronting threats directly, and so a great coalition of nations has come together to fight the terrorists across the world. We've worked together to help break up terrorist networks that cross borders and route out radical cells within our own borders.

GONYEA: Much of the president's speech was a call for the UN to do more to fight disease--AIDS, malaria, the bird flu--and he called for increased international trade to help poor countries rise from poverty, putting that, too, in the context of the fight against terrorism. The president said he wants a drastic reduction in tariffs and other trade restrictions around the world. At one point, the president did have strong words for the United Nations as a body. Mr. Bush says the UN needs to change. He says it needs to be more efficient and free of corruption, a reference to a scandal involving the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq. And he complained about mixed signals on human rights.

Pres. BUSH: When this great institution's member states choose notorious abusers of human rights to sit on the UN Human Rights Commission, they discredit a noble effort and undermine the credibility of the whole organization. If member countries want the United Nations to be respected and effective, they should begin by making sure it is worthy of respect.

GONYEA: The president finished this two-day trip to the UN this afternoon by returning to Washington. He will be preparing tonight and tomorrow for a prime-time speech tomorrow night on relief efforts in the Gulf Coast. He'll address the nation from New Orleans. Don Gonyea, NPR News, New York.

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