President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined sharply different world views in speeches kicking off the 59th General Assembly debate. President Bush staunchly defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while Mr. Annan spoke of powerful countries that ignore the rule of law.
Mr. Bush offered no apologies for invading Iraq, a move the Secretary-General last week described as illegal. Instead, the president launched a spirited defense of the action, saying it had "helped to deliver the Iraqi people from an outlaw dictator".
And with Mr. Annan looking on, along with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he reiterated his determination to stay the course, despite expectations that the road ahead will be painful.
"And we can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections," he said. "The work ahead is demanding. But these difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat, it is to prevail."
In his opening address, Secretary-General Annan made no direct reference to the United States. He did not repeat the comment made to a British television interviewer last week that he views the invasion of Iraq as illegal.
But there was little doubt in the General Assembly hall about what he meant when he called on all states, big and small, strong and weak, to observe the rule of law.
Mr. Annan said all too often fundamental laws are, in his words, 'shamelessly disregarded'. "We must start from the principle that no one is above the law, and no one should be denied its protection," he said. "Every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad. And every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home."
Afghan President Karzai was also among the first day's Assembly speakers. He gave an upbeat assessment of the effort to stage nationwide elections next month. But he noted that the threat of terrorism remains one of the country's biggest challenges.
"The remnants of terrorism continue to attack our citizens and threaten our security," he said. "As long as terrorism continues to exist in our region, neither Afghanistan, nor our neighbors, nor indeed the rest of the world can be safe.
Iraq's Interim Prime Minister Allawi will not address the Assembly until Friday. But he had a high-profile meeting with President Bush Tuesday. He later told reporters he had also met with Pakistan's President Pervez Mushharraf to ask for a Pakistani troop contribution to the multinational force in Iraq.
He said he was hopeful that Pakistan would become the first Muslim country to participate in the force. Pakistani diplomats were non-committal when asked about the request.
President Musharraf is among leaders scheduled to address the Assembly during Wednesday's session.