UNITED NATIONS – The time has arrived for the international community to demonstrate to Iraq and Afghanistan — two countries turning toward democracy after U.S.-led military actions there — that the world is on their side, President Bush said in an address at the United Nations Tuesday.
"We must stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they build free and stable countries," Bush told the U.N. General Assembly (search) in its opening session for the year. "Now the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid and all nations of goodwill should step forward and provide that support."
The United States appears to have won general consensus for assistance to Iraq, recently discovered to lack basic infrastructure after decades of dictatorial rule by Saddam Hussein and war to oust him.
The president has said the United Nations can assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants and conducting free and fair elections.
The biggest question that remains is when a ceding of power to the Iraqis will take place and exactly when other countries will pitch in. A U.S. draft resolution is being circulated within the U.N. Security Council (search). A formal resolution may be introduced later this week asking countries to send troops and aid to the region.
A majority of the 15-member U.N. Security Council — including veto-holding members France, Russia, China and the United Kingdom — must agree to a new resolution before many member nations agree to make a move toward assistance.
Tuesday's speech was the president's first to the United Nations since he challenged the international body one year ago to force then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (search) to comply with resolutions demanding Iraq disarm or face "serious consequences."
Saddam's regime "cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.
The president acknowledged opposition to the war in Iraq, but was unapologetic, and even seemed to gently claim some credit for having carried out concerns expressed by the United Nations.
Bush noted the string of terror attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, are proof that nations need to come together to defeat terrorism wherever it may hide.
Since "the center of New York City became a battlefield, and a graveyard, and the symbol of an unfinished war," terrorists have launched attacks in Bali, Mombasa, Casablanca, Riyadh, Jakarta and Jerusalem, and the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Bush said.
"Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: Between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man, and those who deliberately take the lives of men, and women, and children, without mercy or shame," Bush said.
"Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground."
Saying governments that support terror are "complicit in a war against civilization," Bush added that "all nations that fight terror as if the lives of their own people depend on it will earn the favorable judgment of history."
A Tough Sales Pitch
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) on Tuesday criticized Bush's "pre-emptive" attack on Iraq, but also urged world leaders to set aside earlier disputes and join forces to build a peaceful democracy in the troubled nation.
France and Germany, nations that opposed the war, appear to be coming around. On Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac scolded the United States for going to war outside U.N. spheres of influence, saying: "No one can act alone in the name of all and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules … There is no alternative but the United Nations."
But Chirac didn't repeat French demands to hand over authority within as little as a month and said it should be "gradual" and "according to a realistic timetable."
"It may be three months, six months, nine months — no one can say but obviously today the Iraqis are not prepared" to assume full sovereignty, he said.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told reporters he wanted to see power handed over to the Iraqi people in a "matter of months."
The Bush administration has repeatedly said that it can't turn over authority to the Iraqis until the nation is sovereign, which means it a constitution must be written and free elections must be held. To turn power over to an unelected group is a non-starter, Bush said.
"The primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government for the people of Iraq, reached by orderly and democratic means," Bush said. "This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis — neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties."
The Bush administration has urged Ahmed Chalabi (search), this month's president of the Iraqi Governing Council (search), to prepare a timetable for transfer of power to Iraqis, a U.S. official said. In the meantime, Chalabi has demanded that the U.S.-appointed IGC be given at least partial control of the powerful finance and security ministries.
The United States has been gradually turning over parts of Iraq to multinational forces.
U.S. Marines handed control of Najaf to a Spanish-led multinational force Tuesday after a three-week delay due to a deadly car bombing that raised tensions there.
Bush held one-on-one conferences with world leaders after his speech to make his case.
A senior administration official told reporters after bilateral meetings Bush made clear to visiting leaders that "the premature transfer of sovereignty, which has been the French proposal, is just not in the cards … it would be the wrong thing for Iraqis."
The president met with Spain's prime minister, Indonesia's president, Morocco's leader, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Schroeder, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Annan.
Bush also met with Chirac.
"The president made a very clear and strong point that the United States, which has 140,000 troops on the ground and is asking the American people to spend $20 billion on reconstruction of Iraq, is determined that when there is a sovereignty transfer, that it's going to be done in an orderly fashion," the official told reporters.
"But they pledged to try to work together. The French president said that he wouldn't stand in the way, but he would like, obviously, France would like to try to help."
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be at Camp David this weekend. During the past weekend, Putin said America's failure to stabilize Iraq had convinced him that the war was a bad idea.
Powell also was meeting with his Security Council counterparts, such as French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
In his speech, the president pointed out that stability in Iraq will mean stability elsewhere.
"The success of a free Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region," the president said. "Iraq as a dictatorship had great power to destabilize the Middle East. Iraq as a democracy will have great power to inspire the Middle East."
Iranian Economy and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri told Reuters that Britain had asked his country to play a role in Iraq's reconstruction, although Tehran does not recognize the U.S. administration in Baghdad.
"We said we are ready," he said during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.