WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush told the people of Iran and other Middle East countries in a Sept. 19 speech at the United Nations that America has not declared war on Islam and wants them to live in peaceful societies.
“Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam,” Bush told those who live in the Middle East during a 20-minute address to the U.N. General Assembly. “This propaganda is false, and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam, but we will protect our people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction. Our goal is to help you build a more tolerant and hopeful society that honors people of all faiths and promotes the peace.”
The president spoke several hours before the General Assembly heard from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric and policies have marked him as the most extreme leader of an Islamic state. During his speech Ahdmadinejad criticized America and the United Nations, and he denied Iran was attempting to build nuclear arms, according to The New York Times.
Bush told Iranians, however, their leaders were seeking nuclear weapons. He said the United States did not object to Iran developing “a truly peaceful nuclear power program.”
“You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential,” Bush said to the people of Iran. “The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation’s resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.”
Iran has refused to halt its uranium enrichment program, in defiance of an Aug. 31 deadline established by the U.N. Security Council.
Bush used portions of his speech to talk directly not only to Iranians but to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, the Holy Land and Darfur, the devastated western region of Sudan.
The president reaffirmed the United States-led coalition’s intention to help Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of extremists seeking to undermine democracy. He also renewed his commitment to a Palestinian state next to Israel but said the world is waiting to see if the Hamas government will fulfills its promises or promote extremism.
The credibility of the U.N. is at stake in Darfur, Bush said. If Sudan’s Islamic regime does not allow a Security Council-backed peacekeeping force to intervene in Darfur, the U.N. “must act,” he said.
The president announced the appointment of Andrew Natsios, former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as special envoy to implement peace agreements in Sudan. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a diversity of other organizations had called for Bush to name such a representative.
Hostilities in Darfur have resulted in about 400,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people, according to estimates. The crisis began more than three years ago after rebel forces attacked government bases. Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed and supported by the regime in Khartoum, responded by instituting ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in rampant killing, rape, torture and kidnapping, as well as the destruction of hundreds of villages.
Bush called on the U.N. to join the United States in promoting reform in the Middle East.
“From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom,” he said. “And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice, as well: Will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East -– or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists? America has made its choice. We will stand with the moderates and reformers.”
While the room was full for Bush’s speech, it was mostly empty for Ahmadinejad’s address in the evening, The Washington Times reported.
Ahdmadinejad has endorsed Israel’s annihilation, denied the Holocaust occurred and reportedly called for the end of Christianity’s development in Iran.