Bush, Annan Speeches Show Divisions on Iraq

Times Staff Writers

For the second time in two years, President Bush on Tuesday defended the invasion of Iraq before the U.N. General Assembly and appealed to other countries to join the United States in spreading “freedom” and “human dignity” in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a pointed rebuke, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that countries that hoped to instill the rule of law must first abide by it themselves.

The two addresses at the opening session of the 59th annual meeting invoked values such as democracy and the rule of law, and both Bush and Annan only briefly mentioned the schism of the last two years over the invasion of Iraq. But the war was the clear context for both leaders’ remarks, as it was last year, and the two sides seemed not to have moved closer in the interim.

“When we say ‘serious consequences’ for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences,” Bush said, referring to language in a Security Council resolution warning Iraq to eliminate any weapons of mass destruction. “And so a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world.”


Annan insisted that “every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad.” Although the secretary-general did not name the United States, to the scores of world leaders listening in the vaulted chamber, the target of his comments was obvious.

“Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it,” he said, “and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.”

That comment was a reference to Bush’s challenge to the U.N. in 2002 to enforce its numerous resolutions demanding that Iraq rid itself of illicit weapons. The U.S. eventually invaded without the explicit approval of the Security Council, and last week, Annan called the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “illegal” -- the most direct expression yet of his opposition to the attack.

Annan delivered one direct strike at Washington on Tuesday. Listing a “few flagrant and topical examples” of shameless disregard for law, Annan mentioned “Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused” along with atrocities in Sudan, beheadings in Iraq and the bloody school takeover in Beslan, Russia.

In the chamber, response to both speeches was polite but not enthusiastic. After three consecutive years in which Iraq has dominated the opening of the General Assembly, the response from many delegates was tepid.

Leaders such as interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who depend heavily on U.S. support, lauded Bush’s remarks. Leaders of Germany and Spain sided more with Annan.

“Peace is a task that demands more determination, more heroism than war,” said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who pulled his country’s troops out of Iraq after winning election in March. “For that reason, my government decided not to have a military presence in Iraq.”

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: “I think it’s very important what Kofi Annan said about the rule of law in the 21st century, so I don’t want to go more into the details because this would be very unpolite.”

And French President Jacques Chirac, who after last year’s General Assembly opening met with Bush and tried to paper over their differences about the Iraq invasion, skipped the event altogether.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry said that Bush, in his speech, “barely talked about the realities at all in Iraq” and that he “missed an opportunity” to persuade world leaders to help rebuild and stabilize the country.

“You don’t just stand up in front of folks in the midst of a sort of running-through-all-the-issues speech and pretend that that’s the way you lead people to the table,” Kerry said in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was campaigning. “You have to engage, I said, in a summit. That you ought to pull those people to the table and come out with a unified agreement as to what you’re going to do.... The president has not engaged in that kind of diplomacy and summitry.”

Although the threat from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction was the primary rationale for the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003, Bush on Tuesday presented his decision to invade and occupy the country as part of a campaign to promote democracy and human dignity around the world. And he urged other countries to join in.

“For decades, the circle of liberty and security and development has been expanding in our world,” the president said. “Now we have the historic chance to widen the circle even further, to fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity, to achieve a true peace, founded on human freedom.”

Taking note of the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the March train bombings in Madrid and this month’s school siege in Russia, Bush said terrorists believed that the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Bill of Rights, and every charter of liberty ever written, are lies, to be burned and destroyed and forgotten.”

“The security of the world is found in the advancing rights of mankind,” Bush said. “These rights are advancing across the world -- and across the world, the enemies of human rights are responding with violence.”

Bush cited the surge of violence in Iraq as evidence of progress, saying: “We can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections.... 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.”

Bush also presented U.S. policies as part of an international “compassion” agenda that includes fighting AIDS and human trafficking as well as seeking debt reduction for poor countries. He proposed establishing an international “democracy fund” to support such work as election monitoring, but he gave few specifics and did not say how much the U.S. would contribute to such a project.

Annan also used his remarks to respond to critics, including many in the Bush administration, who contend that the United Nations is too ponderous to be effective.

“Today, more than ever, the world needs an effective mechanism through which to seek common solutions to common problems. That is what this organization was created for,” he said. “Let’s not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it, we will find any more effective instrument.”

Bush’s appeal for other countries to join the U.S. efforts in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t result in any immediate public offers of troops or other assistance. But his most important business was conducted behind closed doors in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where he met with leaders from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Japan.

Bush had no planned meetings with European heads of state.

With the U.S. presidential election six weeks away, Bush’s remarks Tuesday appeared to be aimed as much at the American public as at the international leaders gathered in New York.

A few hours after his speech to the General Assembly, Bush met with Allawi and said the U.S. would continue to support the Iraqi government.

“The American people are seeing horrible scenes on their TV screens,” Bush said, apparently referring to footage of the American hostage who was beheaded Monday in Iraq. “And the prime minister will be able to say to them that in spite of the sacrifices they made, in spite of the fact that Iraqis are dying and U.S. troops are dying as well, that there is a will among the Iraqi people to succeed. And we’ll stand with them.”

Administration officials have sought to stress that Iraq is making progress toward democracy, even as violence continues throughout much of the country and car bombings, ambushes, assassinations and kidnappings remain a threat.

Well over 1,000 U.S. troops have died in the war, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have voiced growing concern about Iraq.

A highly classified National Intelligence Estimate assembled by some of the government’s most senior analysts this summer provided a pessimistic assessment about the future security and stability of Iraq. Contents of the report were recently made public.

On Tuesday, though, Bush said the CIA was “just guessing” when it said in the report that Iraq was in danger of slipping into civil war.

“The CIA laid out several scenarios. It said that life could be lousy, life could be OK, life could be better,” the president said during a photo session with Allawi. “And they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.”

At a raucous rally in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday night, Bush’s Democratic opponent expressed incredulity at the president’s statement that the CIA was “guessing” when it laid out scenarios for success in Iraq.

“Ladies and gentleman, does that make you feel safer?” Kerry asked an indoor stadium crowd estimated at 11,000.

“No!” the audience shouted.

“Does that give you confidence that this president knows what he’s talking about?” the candidate asked.

“No!” the crowd responded.

“The CIA was just guessing?” Kerry continued. “ ... The CIA and the nation deserve a better assessment than that by the president of the United States of America.”


Times staff writer Matea Gold in Florida and Times wire services contributed to this report.