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DIPLOMACY

President looking to reassure in UN address

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- With violence spiking in Iraq, President Bush heads into his annual appearance at the United Nations this week with a dual mission: reassuring wary foreign governments that he is aware of the ongoing challenges, while continuing the optimistic theme of his presidential campaign.

Bush offered an early glimpse of his speech in his weekly radio address yesterday, saying he would promote his belief in "the great possibilities of our time" when he speaks to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. The tenor of his remarks -- at least as he previewed them yesterday -- will contrast with his past comments to the organization. Last year, for example, Bush spoke to the UN six months after he launched the war in Iraq, and he devoted almost all of his address to terrorism and that nation.

"At the United Nations this week, I will make some additional proposals to expand prosperity and accelerate the march of freedom in our world," Bush said. "Never in the history of the United Nations have we faced so many opportunities to create a safer world by building a better world. For the sake of our common security and for the sake of our common values, the international community must rise to this historic moment."

The president has a somewhat tortured relationship with the world organization: He sidestepped concerns from members of the UN Security Council before invading Iraq, and has suffered bitter criticism for it in the year and a half since, especially as the reconstruction effort there has faltered. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said last week that he believed the invasion violated international law, and he raised questions about whether elections can be held there in January as scheduled.

Bush and his Republican surrogates tacitly mock the UN's collaborative process on the campaign trail, saying they would never seek a "permission slip" from other nations to defend the United States.

But despite their mutual suspicions, the Bush administration and the United Nations have a stake in fostering stability in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, both of which have seen renewed violence in recent days. More than 200 civilians have died in Iraq in the past two weeks, and Afghanistan's prime minister, Hamid Karzai, survived an assassination attempt Thursday. Afghanistan is supposed to hold elections Oct. 9, less than a month before the presidential vote in the United States.

Bush tried to cast the crumbling stability in Iraq and Afghanistan in the best light during his radio address. "Terrorist enemies are trying to stop the progress of both those countries, and their violent and merciless attacks may increase as elections draw near," he said. "But all the world can be certain: America and our allies will keep our commitments to the Afghan and Iraqi people. Our long-term security, the safety of our children and grandchildren, will be served when the broader Middle East is home to stable, democratic governments that fight terror."

Bush is scheduled to meet with Karzai and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of Iraq this week. He and Allawi are planning to hold a joint news conference Thursday, the first time the president will have fielded questions from reporters since Aug. 23. Bush spent yesterday behind closed doors at his parents' seaside compound in Kennebunkport, ahead of a trip to see the hurricane damage in Florida and Alabama today.

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