Bush Sends Message of Hope to Middle East

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations - Speaking directly to the people of the Middle East from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush urged them and their governments to support democracy and moderation and assured them that the United States is not at war with Islam.

"My country desires peace," the president said.  "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 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," he said.

The goal of the United States, Bush said, "is to help you build a more tolerant and hopeful society that honors people of all faiths and promotes the peace."

In his sixth address to the opening of the General Assembly since he took office, the president emphasized his agenda for freedom and rejection of terrorism, especially his positive vision for the Middle East.

Contrary to opinions in some quarters, democratic changes in the Middle East are not destabilizing the region, Bush said.   "The stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage,” he said.  “For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness, and these conditions left a generation disillusioned and made this region a breeding ground for extremism."

The president pointed out the results of dramatic change in the region: a democratically elected President Hamid Karzai sat in Afghanistan's seat at the U.N. session; a democratic government in Iraq was represented by President Jalal Talabani.

Bush praised Iraqis for braving car bombers and assassins to vote and said,  "We will not abandon your struggle to build a free nation. … We will not yield the future of your country to terrorist and extremists."

The United States and its partners will continue to stand with the government and "continue to help you secure the international assistance and investment you need to create jobs and opportunity," Bush said.

The president also praised the people of Afghanistan for their courage and determination to live in peace and freedom. 

"Forces from more than 40 countries, including members of the NATO alliance, are bravely serving side by side with you against the extremists who want to bring down the free government you've established. We'll help you defeat these enemies and build a free Afghanistan that will never again oppress you or be a safe haven for terrorists," Bush said.

Although the president praised the people of Lebanon for freeing themselves from Syrian domination and highlighted elections in Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt, he had harsh words for the leaders of Iran and Syria who, he said, are increasing their countries' isolation from the world.

Iran must abandon its ambitions for nuclear weapons, Bush said.  "The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations."

The president spoke directly to Iranians, saying that their future faces obstacles because "your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons."

To the people of Syria, Bush said, "your land is home to a great people with a proud tradition of learning and commerce.  Today your rulers have allowed your country to become a crossroad for terrorism.  In your midst, Hamas and Hezbollah are working to destabilize the region and your government is turning your country into a tool of Iran."

The Syrian government must end its support for terror and live at peace with its neighbors, he said.

"The more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority.  This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together," he said.

The president's message to the Middle East was well received in the General Assembly hall, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kristin Silverberg told the Washington File in an interview after the president’s speech.

She said that many delegations reacted very positively to both the president's hopeful vision for the Middle East and the United States’ positive freedom agenda.

"Addressing his comments directly to the people living under some repressive regimes and also to people living in emerging and newer democracies was a powerful message," Silverberg said.

Text of the president’s address to the General Assembly and a fact sheet on that address are available on the White House Web site.

For ongoing coverage of the 61st Session of the U.N. General Assembly, see The United States and the United Nations.