Iran must make first move, Bush tells UN meeting

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The Independent Online

President George Bush challenged world leaders and their citizens to "stand up for peace" by spurning extremists, in order to promote democracy and end terrorism and armed conflict. "The world must stand up for peace," he declared in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

President Bush, his credibility undermined by spiralling violence in Iraq, meanwhile found himself in a game of hide-and-seek with the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was to address the UN later. White House minders were striving to avoid any chance meeting between the two men.

Mr Bush reiterated his position that Iran must move first to end uranium enrichment before entering talks on its nuclear programme. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table," Mr Bush told reporters. "Time is of the essence."

Addressing the continuing conflict in the Darfur region in Sudan, where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the past three years, Mr Bush named a special envoy on the issue, Andrew Natsios, a former head of the US Agency for International Development.

Referring to a recent UN resolution approving a blue-helmet force to protect the people of Darfur, Mr Bush warned Khartoum to end its opposition with a veiled threat that he would expect the UN otherwise to impose peace by force.

"If the Sudanese government does not approve the deployment of this peacekeeping force quickly, the UN must act," Mr Bush said.

Returning to his theme of moderates versus extremists, he said: "It is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace."

Facing a sceptical audience which surely recalled his assertions in the same room four years before, subsequently proved wrong, on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr Bush tried to insist that progress has been made towards democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere. "From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making their choice for freedom," he said. Then, addressing citizens of the region directly, Mr Bush added: "Extremists in your midst spread propaganda... this propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam, but we will protect our people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction."

After delivering his last speech to the assembly as UN secretary general, Kofi Annan received a standing ovation from delegates.

He listed many of his frustrations and disappointments in 10 years of leading the UN, highlighting in particular the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict.

"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," he said.

President Ahmadinejad, arriving in New York, hinted at his anger at the campaign to force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. "Everyone is upset because of the atmosphere of threat, tension, confrontation, arrogance, hatred. These things cannot lead the world to calmness and sustainable peace," he told reporters.

Iran's leader was missing from a list of leaders invited to a reception hosted last night by President Bush. "I'm not going to meet with him," Mr Bush said.