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At U.N., Bush Cites Headway in Iraq

'I Am Optimistic We'll Succeed,' He Says

By Dana Milbank and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 22, 2004; Page A01

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 21 -- President Bush brushed aside concerns about violence and disorder in Iraq and told world leaders assembled here on Tuesday that the country is making progress against insurgents.

Bush's upbeat assessment of world affairs in general and Iraq in particular contrasted sharply with assessments of diplomats and world leaders gathered for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. While others lamented spreading violence and a breakdown of the rule of law, Bush asserted that times have improved.

In an address to the General Assembly, President Bush said it is "a time of tremendous opportunity for the U.N. and for all peaceful nations." (Larry Downing -- Reuters)

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"During the past three years, I've addressed this General Assembly in a time of tragedy for my country and in times of decision for all of us," he told the delegates, who listened quietly and applauded respectfully. "Now we gather at a time of tremendous opportunity for the U.N. and for all peaceful nations."

Later, in an appearance with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Bush dismissed questions about two Republican senators' calls for a more candid assessment of the Iraq situation, and about a CIA report that warned that Iraq is in danger of further disorganization and possibly civil war.

"The Iraqi citizens are defying the pessimistic predictions," Bush told reporters, adding: "Iraqi citizens are seeing a determined effort by responsible citizens to lead to a more hopeful tomorrow, and I am optimistic we'll succeed."

Allawi echoed Bush's buoyant theme. "It's very important for the people of the world really to know that we are winning, we are making progress in Iraq, we are defeating terrorists," he said. "Unfortunately, the media have not been covering these significant gains in Iraq."

Earlier Tuesday, Allawi took the unusual step of greeting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom with a handshake -- a risky gesture for a leader in the Arab world.

The president said he was hoping that the visit by the pro-America Iraqi leader -- Bush will meet with Allawi at the White House on Thursday -- will convince Americans that "progress is being made" in Iraq despite grim television images of violence there.

Bush spoke a day after terrorists in Iraq posted a gruesome video of an American being beheaded and before the group said it had slain a second U.S. hostage. More than 30 car-bomb attacks have occurred in Iraq this month, as the number of U.S. troops dead in the Iraq conflict has recently exceeded 1,000. Large parts of Iraq remain under the control of insurgents.

The upsurge in violence in Iraq -- which Bush said would likely intensify as the country's January elections approach -- has returned the subject to the center of the U.S. presidential campaign with the election six weeks away. Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry on Tuesday said that Bush "needs to live in the world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin."

Bush's speech to the General Assembly played down his administration's past differences with the United Nations, only briefly revisiting the Security Council's refusal to authorize war in Iraq. Noting that the Security Council had vowed "serious consequences" for Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with its resolutions, Bush said "a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world."

In his speech, the president tied the Iraq war to the war in Afghanistan and the broader struggle against terrorists. "Not long ago, outlaw regimes in Baghdad and Kabul threatened the peace and sponsored terrorists," he said. "Today the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom. . . . And this progress is good for the long-term security of all of us."

Bush made no specific requests for help in Iraq but called on the United Nations and its members to "do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free."

Bush also urged action on a range of issues that have been less polarizing at the world body: a ban on human cloning, a clampdown on human trafficking and efforts to fight AIDS, poverty and corruption.

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