UNITED NATIONS—President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday as his administration grapples with crises around the globe and seems to have fewer options for dealing with them.
The nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attacks in Sudan's Darfur region will top the president's agenda when he speaks to the U.N. General Assembly and privately to foreign leaders.
Bush has expressed frustration over the lack of progress in his key foreign policy initiatives and at times has criticized the United Nations for its deliberative pace and propensity for passing resolutions instead of taking concrete action.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and world leaders, in turn, have criticized the White House for the go-it-alone approach it took in Bush's first term.
"Bush is frustrated with the U.N. because the U.N. won't pick up and respond in an immediate way," said Stephen Schlesinger, director of the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York. "Iran remains a big problem for the administration, North Korea is a question mark, and Darfur is in the balance—three issues on the plate of the U.N. with no clear resolution."
On Tuesday, Bush intends to highlight his vision of spreading democracy in the Middle East as a way to combat terrorism.
"He will talk about, and I think really challenge, all of the other countries assembled there, and the United Nations as an institution, to take some responsibility in its role—and step up to the role of encouraging ... the forces of moderation in this struggle against extremism," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters Monday.
On Iran, administration officials have put on hold the U.S. drive for sanctions against Tehran if it doesn't suspend uranium enrichment. Although they fear the Iranians are merely playing for more time to develop nuclear weapons, administration officials have little choice but to allow Europe's diplomacy with Iran to play itself out; their push for sanctions has run into resistance from allies.
The administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said they wouldn't be able to get European, Russian and Chinese support for sanctions until diplomatic efforts are exhausted. France, Russia and China are veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council.
French President Jacques Chirac said Monday that Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment shouldn't be a precondition for negotiations. The Bush administration insists that it must be. Chirac also called for the threat of sanctions to be set aside, apparently backing away from a strategy that the European countries, Russia and the United States agreed to in June. Chirac and Bush are to meet on Tuesday.
European Union negotiator Javier Solana will meet here later this week with Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. The EU, with U.S. backing, is trying to get Iran to suspend uranium enrichment temporarily, which would open the door to negotiations that the United States would join for the first time.
A senior State Department official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chirac's comments weren't a break with the U.S. approach.
They're "consistent with the principle of suspension for suspension," said the official, referring to a prospective deal in which Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and the major powers would suspend efforts to impose sanctions.
The United States "will continue to actively work to define which sanctions will be in a U.N. Security Council resolution," the official said. "Meanwhile, Solana will keep open the channel with Larijani."
Bush has said he has no intention of meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who'll address the general assembly Tuesday night.
Despite the lack of formal diplomatic contact between Tehran and Washington, some Middle East analysts believe progress could be made on the nuclear issue this week because it's in the best interests of both countries.
"Neither Iran nor the United States wants to be isolated," said David Mack, an analyst for the Middle East Institute and a former deputy assistant secretary of state under the first President Bush. "The powers in Tehran have made it clear that there's room for negotiation. The options to going to a unilateral (U.S.) military engagement don't look good. We're maxed out in terms of economic sanctions. There's nothing more that we can do."
White House officials also are looking for ways to end the unrest in Darfur. The White House is expected to announce that former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios will be the first presidential envoy for the war-torn region.
Bush told reporters Friday that he's frustrated with the U.N. handling of the situation, where government-backed militias have attacked and displaced millions of people.
A U.S.-sponsored peace pact is failing, and Sudan is opposing deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to replace an African Union peacekeeping force.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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