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UN: Bush Defends Iraq Action, Urges World's Help In Reconstruction

United Nations, 23 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today called on members of the United Nations to move past their divisions over Iraq and contribute to its reconstruction and stabilization.

Bush said the U.S.-led military coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein has liberated Iraqis and defended the credibility of the UN by upholding Security Council disarmament resolutions.

"I also recognize that some of the sovereign nations of this assembly disagreed with our actions. Yet there was and there remains unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations. We are dedicated to the defense if our collective security and to the advance of human rights. These permanent commitments call us to great work in the world -- work we must do together. So let us move forward," Bush said.

Bush told the UN General Assembly that the United States is working with other Security Council members on a new resolution that would expand the UN's role in Iraq. He said the UN can assist Iraqi leaders in drafting a new constitution, training civil servants, and conducting elections.

The U.S. president also said Iraq had become a front in the war on terror and that the military coalition was having success. "Our international coalition in Iraq is meeting its responsibilities," he said. "We are conducting precision raids against terrorists and holdouts of the former regime. These killers are at war with the Iraqi people. They have made Iraq the central front in the war on terror and they will be defeated."

Bush said the political transition process in Iraq cannot be either hurried or delayed by "wishes of other parties." France and Germany have called for a quick return of sovereignty to Iraqis.

French President Jacques Chirac, speaking minutes after Bush, said the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities was essential for stability and reconstruction. But he indicated France is more concerned with UN leadership of the transition process than in a quick turnover of power, as it previously called for.

"It is up to the United Nations to give legitimacy to this process. It is also up to the United Nations to assist with the gradual transfer of administrative and economic responsibilities to the Iraqi institutions according to a realistic timetable and to help the Iraqis draft a constitution and hold general elections," Chirac said. Chirac later met with Bush for further discussions on Iraq.

But Chirac, along with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, challenged the U.S. doctrine calling for preemptive strikes in the face of threats to national security. Chirac said it is the role of the Security Council to set the bounds for the use of force.

France was the strongest opponent of the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Earlier this year, it had threatened to veto a resolution that authorized military action against Iraq in response to Iraqi defiance of disarmament requirements.

Annan expressed alarm at the U.S. preemption doctrine. He said that if widely applied, such a doctrine could spread the lawless use of force in the world. He called on the Security Council to discuss how to mount collective action against new kinds of threats, such as terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction.

"The [UN Security] Council needs to consider how it will deal with the possibility that individual states may use force preemptively against perceived threats. Its members may need to begin a discussion on the criteria for an early authorization of coercive measures to address certain types of threats," Annan said.

Annan also said that despite the previous differences over Iraq, it is vital for the international community to support the building of a stable, democratic Iraq. He said it could have a stabilizing effect on the Mideast region.