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Bush, World Leaders At UN Try To Contain Market Fallout


U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the General Debate of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly.

U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the General Debate of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders have scrambled on the first day of general debate in the UN General Assembly to contain the fallout from a financial crisis engulfing Wall Street and sending shock waves across the globe.

In his farewell speech to the United Nations, Bush offered assurances of his commitment to stabilizing world markets, for the moment overshadowing international concerns about tense standoffs with Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

But he also faced criticism at the annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders over the excesses of global capitalism that Washington has long pushed as the path to economic growth and prosperity.

Bush spoke amid intensive efforts in Washington to craft an unprecedented $700 billion bailout spurred by the worst upheaval in the U.S. financial system since the Great Depression.

"I can assure you that my administration and our Congress are working together to quickly pass legislation approving this strategy, and I'm confident we will act in the urgent time frame required," Bush said.

But the main thrust of his speech, his eighth and final to the United Nations, was a call to redouble the international fight against terrorism -- a focus Brazil's president said was regrettable given the severity of the financial crisis.

With investors still worried and the meltdown spreading internationally, other economic powers are also feeling the pinch. Poor countries fear this could lead to cuts in the aid budgets of their biggest donors.

Speaking a few miles from Wall Street, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said financial turmoil endangers efforts to cut world poverty and demands a new approach with less "uncritical faith in the 'magic' of markets."

His words resonated with delegates of leftist governments that have long opposed the free market orthodoxy the Bush administration has advocated.

'Boundless Greed'

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former labor leader with close ties to Washington, blamed the crisis on speculators. "We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all," he said.

Reflecting the depth of concern among dozens of world leaders assembled at UN headquarters in New York City, Lula gently chided Bush for not devoting more of his speech to what the U.S. government is doing to curb the financial meltdown.

"He opted to talk again about terrorism," Lula told reporters. "I was expecting he was going to talk about the economic crisis because I think this is the most important thing at this moment."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a summit of world leaders by year's end to address the financial crisis.

"Let us build together a regulated capitalism in which whole swaths of financial activity are not left to the sole judgment of market operators," he said.

Invoking the pain felt in the Third World, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said, "Economic uncertainty has moved like a tsunami around the globe, wiping away gains."

Bush reasserted accusations that Iran and Syria sponsor terrorism -- charges they deny -- and urged UN member states to enforce sanctions against Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States are planning to meet on September 25 to discuss the possibility of drafting a fourth UN sanctions resolution against Tehran over its nuclear program.

Previous rounds of sanctions and an offer of economic incentives have failed to budge Iran, which denies it seeks nuclear weapons and insists it only wants nuclear energy.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, an outspoken U.S. foe who was present for Bush's speech, was certain to contradict Bush when he addresses the assembly in the afternoon.

Bush renewed U.S. support for Georgia, which Russia invaded in August after the former Soviet republic tried to retake control of its pro-Moscow breakaway region of South Ossetia.

But Bush was less strident in his criticism of Russia than he had been previously. "The United Nations Charter sets forth the 'equal rights of nations large and small'," he said. "Russia's invasion of Georgia was a violation of those words."

Russia's military resurgence has added to an East-West chill not seen since the Cold War. But Bush must walk a cautious line. He still needs Moscow's diplomatic cooperation on issues such as reining in Iran's nuclear program.

With Bush leaving office in four months, many world leaders are already looking beyond him to the next U.S. president -- Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, locked in a close battle ahead of a November 4 election.
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