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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Electioneering Bush warms to UN
Jonathan Marcus
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent in New York

President Bush's foreign policy has been attacked by his opponents, both at home and abroad, as unilateral, ideologically-driven and blinkered.

US President George W Bush at the UN
Bush urged the world community to help rebuild Iraq

So with the presidential election only some six weeks away, this was Mr Bush's opportunity to play the statesman: to convince sceptics - not just abroad, but crucially, wavering, more centrist voters at home - that he has foreign policy ideas that go beyond the preventive use of America's military might; ideas that could invigorate a second Bush term.

All the familiar themes of the Bush doctrine were here - the need to stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan and the need for solidarity in the war on terror.

Mr Bush warned of tough times ahead as insurgents sought to destabilise the electoral process in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were the familiar exhortations to toughness: "The proper response to difficulty," he said, was not "to retreat - but to prevail".

Building 'better world'

But there were also even-handed remarks on the Middle East peace process and equal criticism of both Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Bush also spoke of the requirement to build a better world beyond the war on terror. And here he had a new idea, the establishment of what he called "a Democracy Fund" within the UN.

This would, as he put it, lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law, independent courts, a free press and so on.

Mr Bush said that America would make an initial contribution to the fund and he urged other countries to follow its example.

Few details of the new fund have been given. But it is a small but telling sign - an indication of a growing willingness on the part of the Bush administration to work with the UN in the future.

UN reform

But any fundamental rapprochement between the US and the UN depends upon the world body's ability to reform itself.

US President George W. Bush (L) and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (R) chat with other leaders during lunch at the UN
Bush (left) and Annan (right) were all smiles during the lunch at the UN

This year's General Assembly sets the scene for key decisions that will have to be taken in 2005.

A high-level panel is studying a raft of proposals for UN reform ranging from institutional changes - efforts to expand the Security Council - to wider moves to enable the UN to face up to the challenges of peace and security in the 21st Century.

In his speech, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan focused on the importance of strengthening an international system based upon the rule of law.

Inevitably, his comments have been taken as a mild rebuke of the Americans. He referred, for example, to the disgraceful abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

'Fair rules'

But Mr Annan had a lot more than the Americans in mind.

He set out a sweeping catalogue of abuses, ranging from Beslan to Darfur to northern Uganda and the Middle East.

The international community, he said, needed "a framework of fair rules which each can be confident that others will obey".

It is on this basis that Mr Annan hopes to establish his far-reaching reform programme.

If the UN really is to be more effective, then a lot will depend upon the attitude of the US administration.

Back in the 1940s, the UN was in large part the creation of the United States. Then, Washington saw an advantage in pooling some of its power to gain greater legitimacy for its actions.

Now, even Mr Bush appears to see a growing role for the UN.

But it is far from clear if this shift is simply due to the proximity of the elections or whether Mr Bush has really begun to assimilate the lessons of the Iraq crisis.

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