UNITED NATIONS (AP) – President Bush tried to quell anti-Americanism in the Middle East yesterday by assuring Muslims that he is not waging war against Islam, regardless of what “propaganda and conspiracy theories” they hear.
Bush also pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if the Iranians do not.
But his speech to the United Nations General Assembly was less confrontational and aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States.
“My country desires peace,” Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the U.N. “Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam.”
Bush’s speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week’s fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.
Bush’s challenge is to build support among skeptical foreign leaders to confront multiple problems in the region: the Iranian nuclear issue, a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, armed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and unabated violence in Iraq.
Bush planned to meet later yesterday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Addressing Iraqis specifically, Bush said, “We will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation.”
He then appealed to other foreigners:
– He told Afghans that the United States would help defend democratic gains and fight extremists who want to bring down their democratic government.
– He told the Lebanese that the world will help them rebuild the country after it was battered in this summer’s fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.