President Bush Bids U.N. Farewell

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World leaders gathered in New York Tuesday for the U.N. General Assembly. President Bush addressed the meeting for his eighth and final time. He portrayed himself as a multilateralist who wants to see the U.N. function better. Bush is trying to shed his go-it-alone image.


So, those are the candidates. And now here's the man whose job they want. President Bush spoke in New York today. He was addressing world leaders at this year's United Nations General Assembly meeting. It was his final address to the U.N. before he left office, and that makes today a time to reflect on his legacy and how he is still trying to change it. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When you think about President Bush's approach to the world, multilateralism is probably not one of the words that comes to mind, but President Bush is trying, again, to shed his go-it-alone image. And a top State Department official, Assistant Secretary Brian Hook, says the president does have a record of working with the U.N.

BRIAN HOOK: Whether it's on humanitarian response, nonproliferation, threats to peace and security, preventing AIDS, getting relief to people on AIDS and malaria, across the board you've actually seen extensive multilateral cooperation. And the president doesn't get as much credit as he deserves.

KELEMEN: For the most part, President Bush is seen as a leader who initially worked around the United Nations to wage the war in Iraq. In his second term, he turned more often to the U.N. Robert Orr a top adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, says the U.S. has come to the U.N. to try to deal with Sudan, Myanmar, and even terrorism.

ROBERT ORR: I do think that there has been an important move towards a more realistic approach to the U.N., recognizing what it can do, not just for the world, but for U.S. interests. And that more realistic approach to the U.N. certainly showed up after all of the breakdown around Iraq had kind of played out, and people began to look towards the institution to solve real problems, whether it was on the human rights or development side, but also on the security side.

KELEMEN: He is hoping the next U.S. president will build on that. This year, the U.S. presidential campaign is reaching into U.N. corridors. Republican vice presidential hopeful, Sarah Palin, is getting what's essentially a crash course in foreign policy here, meeting leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Ukraine, among others. The financial crisis is also high on the minds of many. Robert Orr is already hearing a lot of talk about that.

ORR: For the world's poor and the most vulnerable, this financial crisis that might start in the U.S. will have ripple effects and exacerbate the food crisis, the energy crisis. So the ripple effects are just starting. It, unfortunately, will hit just about every part of the globe, and they will hit those who can least afford it the hardest.

KELEMEN: President Bush is planning to drop by a meeting on the food crisis after his speech today, and this is a top issue for many of the activists who have been descending on New York, including rock star, Bob Geldof.

BOB GELDOF: In the case of George Bush, the reality is that this guy has, by the time he leaves, quadrupled U.S. aid to Africa, and well done him.

KELEMEN: He says it just took time to get to know the Bush administration. Some U.N. officials say privately they hope the next administration won't have as steep a learning curve. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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