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At UN One Year Later, Bush Strikes Different Tone on Iraq - 2003-09-24

When President Bush spoke at the United Nations this week, it was his first appearance before the world body since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Mr. Bush took a decidedly different approach in asking for U.N. help to rebuild the country than he did in asking for its blessing to go to war.

President Bush used last year's speech at the U.N. General Assembly to make the case against Saddam Hussein, saying Baghdad's conduct threatened U.N. authority by answering a decade of U.N. demands with what he called a decade of defiance.

He asked member states to authorize the use of force against Iraq, saying the U.N. faced a defining moment. "Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence," he asked. "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?"

In his speech one year ago, Mr. Bush made clear he would move against Iraq with or without U.N. permission because, he said, the United States would not stand by while dangers gather. "The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable," he said.

The crux of the president's case against Iraq was the immediacy of the threat from weapons of mass destruction. At the time, countries including France and Germany asked Mr. Bush for more time for U.N. inspectors in Iraq to find those weapons, but the president said that would only help the Iraqi leader by further delaying action against him.

In this week's speech, Mr. Bush said little about those weapons of mass destruction because five months after U.S. troops captured Baghdad, none of those weapons has yet been found.

Instead, the president used this week's speech to ask for U.N. help to rebuild the country, saying it is time to move forward beyond divisions over Iraq. Mr. Bush praised the Security Council for helping bring down Saddam Hussein even though the council refused to back the U.S. invasion.

"The Security Council was right to be alarmed. The Security Council was right to demand that Iraq destroy its illegal weapons and prove that it had done so," he said. "The Security Council was right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply. And because there were consequences, because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free."

There is still considerable mistrust at the United Nations over Washington's pre-emptive strike against Baghdad. Secretary General Kofi Annan says the invasion set a dangerous precedent and is a fundamental challenge to U.N. principles.

French President Jacques Chirac said no one can accept the anarchy of a lawless society. But more importantly for Mr. Bush, the French leader also said he would not veto the U.S. resolution seeking a multi-national security force under U.S. command.

After failing to get U.N. approval for the invasion, Mr. Bush now appears closer to winning support for post-war reconstruction. The challenge then will be getting individual member states to contribute to that effort in a country where U.S. troops continue to face armed resistance.