Bush U.N. Speech to Focus on Middle East

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President Bush addresses the United Nations General Assembly with a speech advocating the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But he's likely to face a skeptical audience that is critical of the U.S. policies in Iraq and Iran.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President Bush today addresses the United Nations General Assembly. Aides say the theme will be democracy in the Middle East. And he's one of two rival presidents taking the stage. The other is the president of Iran. Both will face an audience in which some diplomats are skeptical of their claims.

In this part of the program we'll get the view from the U.S. and from Tehran. And we begin with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the president will, as he put it, challenge U.N. member states to encourage the forces of moderation in their struggle against extremism. It's a theme President Bush highlighted when he spoke at a global literacy event in New York yesterday.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The goals of this country are to help those who feel hopeless. The goals of this country are to spread liberty. The goals of this country is to enhance prosperity and peace.

KELEMEN: But his policies in the Middle East have come under criticism here. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a meeting on Iraq yesterday had a stark warning.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (U.N. Secretary-General): If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much longer there is a grave danger that the Iraqi state will break down possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war.

KELEMEN: Annan said recently that most leaders he met during a trip through the Middle East told him that the war in Iraq has been a disaster. Annan and others have also been trying to revive the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is to meet President Bush later this week, has been trying to end an international aid blockade that's been in place ever since Hamas won parliamentary elections in January. The U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

But it is Iran's nuclear standoff with the West that is likely to draw the most attention today. The U.S. has been pushing for sanctions to punish Iran for missing a U.N. deadline to suspend nuclear activities that the U.S. believe are part of a secret weapons program. Russian and China are reluctant to move toward sanctions and the European Union's foreign policy chief has been trying to keep open a dialogue with Iran's top nuclear negotiator.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton argues the Iranians are stalling.

Mr. JOHN BOLTON (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): I don't anticipate that this conversation will go on forever given that we're now 18 days, by my calculation, after the August 31 deadline. Our position remains unless there is a full and verifiable suspension of uranium enrichment activities by Iran, we will seek sanctions in the Security Council.

KELEMEN: To do that the U.S. has to keep together a coalition that presented Iran with a choice: sanctions or engagement. French President Jacques Chirac has suggested a compromise to hold off on talks of sanctions if Iran suspends its enrichment activities. Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is to address the U.N. General Assembly this evening, but President Bush has ruled out any contact with him.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, United Nations.

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