UN Assembly opens annual high-level debate; Bush urges help to rebuild Iraq

US President George Bush

23 September 2003 – As more than 80 Heads of State and Government convened at United Nations Headquarters in New York today for the start of the General Assembly's annual high-level debate, United States President George W. Bush urged the international community to put aside its differences and help Iraq rebuild itself into a democracy with the "great power to inspire the Middle East."

Acknowledging that some Members States opposed his decision to go to war in Iraq, President Bush said: "Yet there was, and there remains, unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations. We are dedicated to the defence of our collective security, and to advance human rights. These permanent commitments call us to great work in the world - work we must do together. So let us move forward."

He underscored the notion that the "success of a free Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region" and that "leaders in the region will face the clearest evidence that free institutions and open societies are the only path the long-term national success and dignity." A transformed Middle East would also benefit the entire world, President Bush said, "by undermining the ideologies that export violence to other lands."

President Bush said the United Nations was carrying out vital work, too, in Iraq with its humanitarian operations and had a role to play in the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, in helping to develop a constitution and conducting free and fair elections. He also called on the Security Council to adopt a new anti-proliferation resolution "calling on all members of the UN to criminalize the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," enacting strict export controls and securing all sensitive material. Video

President Jacques Chirac of France
For his part, President Jacques Chirac of France said the war in Iraq, embarked on without Security Council approval, had undermined the multilateral system. "In an open world, no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules," he declared. "Multilateralism is the key, for it ensures the participation of all in the management of world affairs. It is a guarantee of legitimacy and democracy in matters regarding the use of force."

Mr. Chirac called for the UN to oversee the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraq and mandate a multilateral force commanded by the United States. He also urged the international community to restore the dynamic of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and proposed a Security Council summit to frame a UN plan against nuclear non-proliferation. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) must dismantle its nuclear weapons programme and Iran must implement strengthened safeguards against nuclear weapons production, he added. Video

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Addressing the Assembly at the outset of its session, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil expressed his strong belief in "a multilateral framework in which the United Nations is given a central role" when dealing with complex issues of security and national reconstruction such as Iraq and the Middle East. He said reforming the UN has become an urgent task given the present risks to the international political order. The Security Council must be fully empowered to deal with threats to peace and the composition of its permanent membership "cannot remain unaltered almost 60 years on," he stated.

Turning to issues of freer and fairer trade, President da Silva cited specifically the protectionism practiced by rich countries and its impact on developing countries. He also spoke of the need to eradicate hunger in the world as "a moral and political imperative," noting that the launch of the "Zero Hunger" programme in Brazil was intended to ensure that by the end of his term in office no Brazilian would go hungry. Video

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