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Bush, Annan Head List of World Leaders Addressing UN Assembly


The words of President Bush, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders dominated day one of the annual U.N. General Assembly debate. But, the day was also marked by chance meetings, delicate bilateral talks on the sidelines, and the abrupt cancellation of one scheduled speech.

Secretary-General Annan opened the 61st General Assembly debate with a harsh assessment of the state of the world. With his 10-year term in office coming to a close, he painted a grim picture of a globe wracked by poverty, disease, war, and the threat of terrorism.

He singled out the Arab-Israeli conflict as a particular sore spot, saying the continuing hostilities threaten the world body's credibility.

"As long as the Security Council is unable to end this conflict, and the now nearly 40-year old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will respect for the United Nations continue to decline," said Kofi Annan.

President Bush followed with a speech in which he spoke directly to the people in countries where freedom is restricted. Speaking to Muslims in the Middle East, he urged them to disregard what he called "propaganda and conspiracy theories" that he said are poisoning their view of the United States.

"My country desires peace," said President Bush. "Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to justify acts of terror."

A number of other world leaders took the U.N. stage Tuesday. French President Jacques Chirac reassured world leaders that France remains firmly in line with other Security Council powers in demanding a halt to Iran's uranium enrichment program. In his speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad reaffirmed his country's right to process uranium, saying Iran's nuclear activities are "transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eye" of United Nations inspectors.

Not everything went according to script during the long day of speeches and meetings. Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had been due to address the Assembly Wednesday, but as Tuesday's debate began word spread through the hall of a military coup in Bangkok. Mr. Thaksin first asked that his speech be moved forward to Tuesday evening so he could return home. But a short time later, the speech was cancelled.

This General Assembly debate is also showing signs of the growing role of women on the world stage. Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain is the first woman to preside over the debate in 37 years.

One of the emerging breed of female heads of state, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, paid tribute in her Assembly speech to the new president.

"We are proud of you because you are the first Arab Muslim woman, and the third woman to occupy this noble position," said Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Another woman head of state speaking to the Assembly Tuesday was Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who is also a candidate to become secretary-general. In her speech, she rejected the tradition of regional rotation for the top U.N. job, which dictates that the next secretary-general should be an Asian.

"While I deeply respect the candidates who have already been nominated from one part of the world, the selection procedure should not restrict the rights and opportunities of potential candidates from another part of the world," said Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

President Bush's day at the U.N. included a luncheon with many other heads of state and dignitaries. He took the opportunity to offer a toast to the outgoing secretary-general Kofi Annan.

"We need to raise our glasses to 10 years of extraordinary service, and be thankful that a man such as Kofi Annan was willing to stand up and serve the cause of justice and peace," he said. "And so if you'll join me in a toast to a good man, and a good friend, and we ask for God's blessing on you."

Mr. Bush also had a chance encounter during the day with his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton was at the U.N. to raise money to fight AIDS and other diseases in developing countries.

As U.N. cameras recorded the meeting, Mr. Bush put his arm around Mr. Clinton and introduced him to the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The General Assembly debate continues Wednesday with several other prominent heads of state on the agenda. The leaders of Afghanistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are among those who will speak.

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