In Last U.N. Speech, Bush Pushes Democracy

By: CBS/AP
By: CBS/AP

(CBS/AP) George W. Bush, facing the United Nations for the last time as U.S. President, is trying to assure world leaders that his government is acting decisively and quickly to contain a financial crisis.

In a speech Tuesday at the annual U.N. General Assembly, the president said he realizes that other nations are watching how the United States deals with the financial meltdown that is shaking the global economy.

He said that his administration is working with Congress to come to fast agreement on a $700 billion bailout bill, in addition to other recent actions he called "bold steps" aimed at stabilizing markets and keeping credit flowing.

Mr. Bush said he is confident that the U.S. will act "in the urgent timeframe required" to prevent broader problems.

He did not ask for any action by other countries, though he also scolded the U.N. body for inefficiency and corruption, and said strong actions must be taken against members that fail to uphold their obligations.

Mr. Bush (who came to office unconvinced of the need for international cooperation) also stressed the need for multinational diplomacy and supporting burgeoning democracies.

"History shows when citizens have a voice in choosing their own leaders, they are less likely to search for meaning and radical ideologies," he said. "When governments respect the rights of their people, they're more likely to respect the rights of their neighbors. For all these reasons, the nations of this body must challenge tyranny as vigorously as we challenge terror."

He criticized Russia's invasion of Georgia, saying it violated the United Nations charter setting forth the equal rights of nations great and small.

"President Bush used his farewell address to shift focus from his earlier actions in which the U.S. went it alone on the world stage to a plea for multilateralism, a shift made of necessity because of the crises in Georgia, in Afghanistan and in the Middle East," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk, from the U.N.

"President Bush also pointed the finger at Iran just hours before Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will get two opportunities to respond, in his afternoon speech and in a press conference which the Iranian government has called to respond to International Atomic Energy Agency charges, which the Iranian government says are fabricated," reports Falk.

Opening the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday that the global financial crisis endangers the U.N. campaign to fight poverty and he called for global leadership to restore order to international financial markets, make trade concessions and act on climate change.

Addressing more than 120 world leaders and dozens of government ministers at the opening of the annual ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Ban painted a grim picture of a world facing not only a financial crisis but food and energy crises as well as new outbreaks of war and violence and "new rhetoric of confrontation."

"We must do more to help our fellow human beings weather the gathering storm," he said. "I see a danger of nations looking more inward, rather than toward a shared future. I see a danger of retreating from the progress we have made, particularly in the realm of development and more equitably sharing the fruits of global growth."

Ban said he worried that nations are losing sight of the "new reality" - that there are "new centers of power and leadership in Asia, Latin America and across the newly developed world" - and that "in this new world, our challenges are increasingly those of collaboration rather than confrontation."

Ban's focus on global financial challenges and new cooperation come in a General Assembly session confronting a host of challenges, including Western pressure on Iran for its nuclear program and continued threats of terrorism.

"The world financial crisis overshadowed much of the debate at the U.N. and the Secretary General's call on Monday for $72 billion for Africa was seen as unlikely with world powers' resources virtually tapped out," Falk added.

On The Sidelines

Prior to his speech, Mr. Bush met with new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, exhibiting a show of solidarity against extremists during their meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Mr. Bush expressed sorrow for the victims of a deadly truck bomb that struck the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and acknowledged tensions over U.S. military incursions into Pakistani territory.

"I know that you, your heart went out to the families of those who suffer and so does the collective heart of the American people," Mr. Bush said. "We stand with you."

Zardari said democracy was the answer for Pakistan.

"We will solve all the problems. We have a situation. We have issues. We've got problems. But we will solve them, and we will rise to the occasion. That's what my wife's legacy is all about," Zardari said in reference to the assassination of his wife, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"That's what democracy is all about - to take difficult decisions and do the right thing for the people of our country and our two great nations. We should come together in this hard time and we will share the burden and the responsibility with the world," he said.

Privately, the two leaders must try to craft a delicate strategy to make progress in fighting militants while keeping U.S.-Pakistan relations on an even keel until Mr. Bush leaves office in four months.

World leaders and delegations from the United Nation's 192 members are in New York for this week's opening of the 63rd session of the General Assembly - and so are protestors.

Yesterday, thousands protested Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pro-nuclear, anti-israel stand. John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin had been scheduled to speak at that rally before her invitation was withdrawn, but Plante reports that Palin (who got her first passport just last year) is in New York and will get a crash course in international affairs.

The Alaska governor will be meeting with the leaders of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia and Ukraine, as well as with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and U2's Bono.

Iran's president, whose appearance at the U.N. General Assembly last year sparked thousands of protesters in the streets and an American walkout during his speech, returns to the U.N. later today amid heightened concerns over his country's nuclear ambitions.

Ahmadinejad's speech comes after the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned Monday that he cannot determine whether Iran is hiding some nuclear activities.

Ahmadinejad said in an interview with National Public Radio airing Tuesday that he does not want confrontation with the United States. He said he wants diplomatic relations to develop between the two countries and is willing, for example, to cooperate on upholding security in neighboring Iraq.

"We do not have confrontations with anyone," he said. "The U.S. administration interferes, and we defend ourselves."

But the Iranian leader, seen at left, warned over the weekend that Iran's military would strike back against anyone targeting his country's nuclear facilities.

"If anyone allows himself to commit even a tiny offense against Iran's legitimate interests, borders and sacred land, our armed forces will break his hand before he pulls the trigger," Ahmadinejad said during a military parade Sunday.

Iran insists its nuclear activities are geared only toward generating power. But Israel says the Islamic Republic could have enough nuclear material to make its first bomb within a year. The U.S. estimates Tehran is at least two years away from that stage.

Last year, thousands rallied at the United Nations to protest Ahmadinejad's speech. When Ahmadinejad was ushered to the podium of the General Assembly to speak, the U.S. delegation walked out, leaving only a low-ranking note-taker to listen to his speech.

The vice president of Sudan and leaders from Georgia, Lebanon, Kenya, Somalia, France, Liberia and Argentina also are among those addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday.

On Monday, leaders gathered for a high-level meeting on Africa's development needs. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world's rich nations to spend $72 billion a year to help Africa achieve U.N. goals to fight poverty, improve health and ensure universal primary education.

A new report from the secretary general said not a single African country is likely to achieve all the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.

Ban said last week he was deeply concerned that the current economic slowdown and turmoil on Wall Street could have a "very serious negative impact" on the ability of rich nations to help achieve the targets, first and foremost to cut extreme poverty by half.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who heads the African Union, added his concern, warning Monday that "if the crisis is to continue, it will certainly have serious, serious implications." But he was hopeful that the financial turmoil will be short-lived.

"There may not be easy answers, but I believe the U.S. will overcome, and the world will overcome this unfortunate situation," he said.

For live Web casts of the General Assembly and media briefings on the www.un.org Web site, click here.

© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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