UNITED NATIONS – George W. Bush called on Arabs and Muslims to stand up for democracy, saying in his United Nations address yesterday that freedom is their ticket to advancement and the world’s guarantee of security.
In a speech that appeared designed to build bridges at a time of increasing international criticism of his administration’s policies, the U.S. president defended his “freedom agenda” and said the United States was ready to stand with “democratic leaders and moderate reformers.”
But he also said the U.S.-led war on terror would continue to “protect our people” from those who “pervert Islam to sow death and destruction.”
And beyond the defence of the West, he called for direct action against Sudan’s Arab-led regime, which continues to block the deployment of peacekeeping troops the UN wants to send to the country’s western Darfur region to protect black Sudanese from attacks by Arab militias.
“The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force,” Mr. Bush told leaders and other representatives of the UN’s member states. “If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act.”
The call amounts to a demand for implementation of the Canadian-promoted principle of “Responsibility to Protect,” which states the UN has a right to act against a government that can’t or won’t protect its people from genocide or other war crimes.
Though the UN Security Council has endorsed the principle and approved deployment of about 17,000 peacekeeping troops to Darfur, it also says Khartoum must first agree to accept the force.
Mr. Bush said the “credibility of the UN” depends on whether it can act in Darfur — echoing what he said in 2002 when he called for UN action to end Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s decade of defiance of the world body over weapons inspections.
Mr. Bush spoke on the first day of the UN’s 61st annual summit, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper will address tomorrow.
With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also addressing the assembly yesterday, there had been speculation the pair would somehow bump into one another — setting the stage for a testy face off as the United States leads the Western push to force Iran to roll back its nuclear program.
But the two instead duelled only in words from the podium after Mr. Ahmadinejad stayed away from a luncheon for delegates hosted by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
“We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture,” Mr. Bush told Iranians directly in his speech. “You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and talents.
But “the greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation’s resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons.”
He also upbraided the Syrian government, telling Syrians their leaders had turned their country into a “crossroads for terrorism” and a “tool of Iran” — both references to Syria’s support for Iran-financed Hezbollah, based in neighbouring Lebanon.
In a virtual admission the West is losing the public relations war around the world, Mr. Bush said he wanted to set the record straight about the U.S. intentions.
“My country desires peace” he said. “Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war on Islam.
“This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror.”
No one had any doubt the U.S.-led presence in Iraq was on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s mind when he spoke from the podium of a country that he said uses the pretext of combatting terrorism to intervene overseas.
“By causing war and conflict, some are fast expanding their domination, accumulating greater wealth and usurping all the resources,” he told the assembly. “Others endure the resulting poverty, suffering and misery.
“Some seek to rule the world relying on weapons and threats, while others live in perpetual insecurity and danger.
“Some occupy the homeland of others, thousands of kilometres away from their borders, interfere in their affairs and control their oil … while others are bombarded daily in their own homes.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad railed against U.S. support for Israel, which he called “a constant source of threat and insecurity” in the Middle East. He charged that the UN Security Council systematically fails to act against Israel because of the veto the United States holds in that body as a permanent member.
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