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Inside Politics

Bush to U.N.: Choose between freedom or extremism

Story Highlights

• Bush: Fighting extremism "calling of our generation"
• Bush says "time is of the essence" for Iran to suspend nuclear activities
• President Bush to showcase what he sees as success of "freedom agenda"
• Bush uses United Nations speech to request support for Mideast democracy
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- President Bush challenged world leaders to do more to build democracy in the Middle East in an address at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday.

Bush used a noontime speech to the General Assembly to ask U.N. members for help in fighting extremism in the Middle East.

"From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom," Bush told the General Assembly.

"And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice as well," he said. "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?" (Watch President Bush explain who freedom in the Middle East will reduce the terrorist threat -- 6:22)

Following up on a speech he made last week on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush said the "calling of our generation" is the fight between extremism and the "peaceful majority."

The American president cited electoral advances across the Mideast as proof that democracy is advancing in the region and said the lack of reform seen in the past decades fertilized extremism.

Bush said people who have hope for a future "are less likely to blow themselves up in suicide attacks" and asked Muslim nations to support democratic reforms in the Middle East.

He praised the people of Iraq for voting for a democratic government and vowed to stand behind the elected leaders in securing Iraq's future from "terrorists and extremists."

Afghanistan voters also drew his praise for establishing a free government that combats terrorists.

And peace between Palestinians and Israelis "is one of the great objectives of my presidency," Bush said, and he praised the commitments of both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Bush cited Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as examples of countries providing the diplomatic and financial leadership needed to foster Mideast democracy.

And Bush said the United States respects the people of Iran and wants them to have leaders that allow them the freedom to pursue their dreams.

He said Iran must comply with U.N. demands on halting nuclear enrichment activities so Iran can benefit fully from what the rest of the world has to offer. (Transcript of Bush speech)

Among those in the audience was expected to be Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an acerbic critic of U.S. foreign policy who has previously challenged Bush to a debate. The two were not expected to talk directly. (Watch why any confrontation won't be up close and personal -- 2:31)

"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."

Ahmadinejad will address the assembly Tuesday evening.

After meeting with French President Jacques Chirac Tuesday morning, Bush warned Iran that "time is of the essence" for the country to avoid sanctions by complying with U.N. demands to stop uranium enrichment activities.

Uranium enrichment is key to producing nuclear weapons. 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.

In an interview before the U.N. visit, Time magazine asked Ahmadinejad if Iran would suspend enrichment "as a confidence-building measure."

"Whose confidence should be built?" the Iranian leader asked.

"The world? Who is the world? The United States? The U.S. administration is not the entire world," he said. "Europe does not account for one-twentieth of the entire world. When I studied the provisions of the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], nowhere did I see it written that in order to produce nuclear fuel, we need to win the support or the confidence of the United States and some European countries." (Read Time interviewexternal link)

In the Time interview, Ahmadinejad said that the Bush administration must "change its behavior, and then everything will be solved.

"It was the U.S. which broke up relations with us. We didn't take that position. And then they should make up for it," Ahmadinejad told Time. (Watch why protests are planned at the U.N. meeting -- 1:46)

Among the 27 world leaders speaking Tuesday, according to Reuters, are Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, French President Jacques Chirac, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Jordanian King Abdullah II Bin al-Hussein and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

About 15 anti-Bush protesters were arrested outside the United Nations during the Bush's address, the New York Police Department said. Most of the the arrests were for misdemeanors and disorderly conduct, said Cadet Officer Michael Levoff.


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President Bush praised the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon for democratic progress during a U.N. speech on Tuesday.

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