Bush, Iranian leader will likely avoid each other at U.N. - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/19/06

Bush, Iranian leader will likely avoid each other at U.N.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- As President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, a top U.N. official said the two men likely will do their best to steer clear of each other.

Bush is scheduled to address the annual conference at U.N. headquarters with Ahmadinejad in attendance. Ahmadinejad is an acerbic critic of U.S. foreign policy who has previously challenged Bush to a debate.

"I'm sure both will have minders working hard to keep them apart," said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown. "So probably, the great clash of the titans, the rumble of the jungle -- whatever you want to call it -- is not going to happen.

The United States suspects Iran of using its nuclear program to develop weapons, while Tehran insists its program is only for peaceful purposes.

The U.N. Security Council had demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment by August 31 or face the possibility of economic sanctions. Iran missed the deadline but said it would consider temporarily suspending its program as a condition for beginning talks with the United States. Uranium enrichment is key to producing nuclear weapons.

In August, Ahmadinejad challenged Bush to participate in a "direct television debate with us," so Iran can voice its point of view on how to end problems in the world. The White House called the offer a "diversion" from international concerns over Iran's nuclear program, Reuters reported.

On Friday, when asked if he would meet with Ahmadinejad, Bush said, "No, I'm not going to meet with him. I have made it clear to the Iranian regime that we will sit down with the Iranians once they verifiably suspend their enrichment program, and I meant what I said."

'Struggle against extremism'

Bush is expected during his General Assembly speech to challenge U.N. members to "step up" and take more responsibility for "encouraging the forces of moderation in this struggle against extremism" in the Middle East, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on Monday.

Previewing the speech for reporters, Hadley said Bush will discuss how the struggle to build democracy in the Middle East -- at the core of what the administration refers to as its "freedom agenda" -- has "an important part to play to give the people in the region a vision of hope and opportunity and a better future."

"He will also ... emphasize the fact that countries need to find their way towards free and just societies in their own time, consistent with their own culture and traditions," Hadley said.

And Bush will "showcase" what the administration sees as positive results from its agenda, "the most remarkable being the processes of freedom and democracy going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon," according to Hadley.

"He will talk about, and, I think, really challenge all of the other countries assembled there, and the United Nations as an institution, to take some responsibility in its role," Hadley said, adding that Bush will also note "the stakes for all of us in the outcome of that struggle."

Monday, the White House announced an addition to Bush's schedule while in New York -- a meeting Wednesday morning with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been trying to build a national unity government in order to restart the flow of international aid, which was cut off after Hamas won legislative elections in January.

The United States and the European Union have declared Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, a terrorist organization.

"We support voices of moderation. Obviously, President Abbas is one," Hadley said. "We have worked with him and would continue to work with him. That's why the president is going to see him.

"The big question, of course, is whether Hamas will renounce violence, accept the existence of Israel and accept the agreements that have been made. That's the $64 question."

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