Bush clashes with Annan over global security

By James Harding and Mark Turner at the United Nations

Financial Times

Published: September 22 2004

President George W. Bush on Tuesday told the United Nations general assembly that the world faced a time of 'tremendous opportunity', in sharp contrast to a sombre warning by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, about the unravelling of international law.

Mr Bush called on the international community to stand by 'the world's newest democracies', heralding Iraqi sovereignty and the approaching Afghan elections as evidence of the spread of freedom across the Muslim world.

Hours after Mr Bush spoke, Iraqi militants led by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi claimed on an Islamist website to have beheaded another US hostage in Iraq, the second in two days .

The US president made an idealistic appeal to all nations to embrace 'liberty's century' at a forum where he had previously delivered a belligerent ultimatum to Baghdad. 'Freedom is finding a way in Iraq and Afghanistan and we must continue to show our commitment to democracy in those nations,' Mr Bush said. 'The liberty that many have won at a cost must be secured.'

Mr Bush described 'the rights [of mankind] advancing across the world'. But Mr Annan said: 'Today the rule of law is at risk around the world.' Last week he called the Iraq war 'illegal'.

Mr Annan listed 'civilians massacred in cold blood' in Iraq, as well as 'Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused', death, mutilation and rape in Sudan and northern Uganda, as well as 'civilians, including children, deliberately targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers' and 'needless civilian casualties caused by Israel's excessive use of force'.

Underlining his argument for a new definition of security founded in the advance of freedom with a new financial commitment, Mr Bush proposed the establishment of a new United Nations democracy fund. He pledged an initial contribution from the US to set up a fund to finance such things as independent courts and polling places.

As Iyad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister, watched from the chair occupied last year by Ahmed Chalabi, the now discredited leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Mr Bush warned of an escalation of terrorist attacks in the run-up to elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, he said, 'these difficulties will not shake our conviction the proper response to difficulty is not to retreat it is to prevail'.

Mr Allawi goes to Washington to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, as Iraq has become a focal point of the US presidential election.

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, has intensified his criticism of the Iraq war over the past week, arguing Mr Bush misrepresented the threat, mismanaged the occupation and left the US less secure.

Mr Bush on Tuesday presented the removal of Saddam Hussein by force as 'good for the long term security' of the world.