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Bush: Religious Freedom Central to US Foreign Policy

President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly that religious liberty is a central element of U.S. foreign policy and the rise of democracy is one of the best ways to protect religious freedom. In what is likely his final appearance at the United Nations before he leaves office in January, Mr. Bush addressed a session of the General Assembly aimed at highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue in solving the world's crises. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Mr. Bush spoke about how faith has been pivotal in his life.

"Many years ago, faith changed my life," Mr. Bush said. "Faith has sustained me through the challenges and joys of my presidency, and faith will guide me for the rest of my days."

He said the United States was founded by people seeking refuge from religious persecution and that freedom of religion is a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

"Freedom is God's gift to every man, woman and child," Mr. Bush said. "And that freedom includes the right of all people to worship as they see fit."

He said protecting religious freedom has always been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.

President Bush said that although people may hold different beliefs or worship in different places, faith leads us all to common values such as loving our neighbors and treating others with compassion and respect.

Mr. Bush said one of the defining features of democratic governments is that they embrace people of all faiths and backgrounds, giving them the freedom to oppose those who use religion to justify violence or extremism.

"People who are free to express their opinions can challenge the ideologies of hate. They can defend their religious beliefs and speak out against those seeking to twist them to evil ends," Mr. Bush said. "They can prevent their children from falling under the sway of extremists by giving them a more hopeful alternative."

Before he addressed the assembly, President Bush met privately with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Afterwards, the two leaders and their wives posed for photos, on what is probably Mr. Bush's last visit to the United Nations as president.

Mr. Bush is to meet with Saudi King Abdullah, who initiated the interfaith dialogue conference. The president will then go to the nearby financial district to make comments on the global economy, before returning to Washington, where he will host the G-20 financial summit this weekend.