WASHINGTON – Security is already being stepped up in New York as the city prepares for the 59th United Nations General Assembly gathering, where President Bush is expected to soften his tone from last year's opening address and speak Tuesday about his vision for a "better world."
In this year's remarks to the opening session, the president is pushing the fight against AIDS (search) and the pursuit of economic progress as an alternative to terror.
"Our country is determined to spread hope and economic progress and freedom as the alternatives to hatreds, resentments and terrorist violence," Bush said, previewing his speech during his weekly radio address on Saturday. "In hopeful societies, men and women are far less likely to embrace murderous ideologies.
"For the sake of our common security, and for the sake of our common values, the international community must rise to this historic moment. And the United States is prepared to lead," he said.
Also on this year's list of speakers is interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search), who is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., on Thursday after intensive diplomacy at the United Nations. While making his way to the United States for the opening session, Allawi stopped in London where he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), a staunch U.S. ally that has been at the forefront trying to secure peace in Iraq.
Blair and Allawi discussed security in advance of the scheduled January election in Iraq, which terrorists have suggested they plan to obstruct. Allawi is expected to ask for U.N. support to ensure the election takes place on time and without problems.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently told the British Broadcasting Corporation that if the security environment does not improve in Iraq, it would be "very difficult" if not impossible for the nation to hold a credible election. Annan's remarks, which included the sentiment that the war in Iraq was "illegal," drew criticism from many inside the United States as well as some world leaders who said such a statement should not come from the head of the United Nations.
"I think that was an uncalled-for remark," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told FOX News. "Regardless of what his opinion is, he can't step aside from that position he holds with the United Nations, so I don't think that's particularly helpful at this point in time."
"We have seen great progress being made by the interim government," Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said — dismissing suggestions that Iraq's elections would be postponed. "The fact that Prime Minister Allawi is coming to speak to a joint session of Congress is indication that progress is still being made. We're supporting his government's success."
Still, national security analyst and FOX News contributor Harlan Ullman said that the president must acknowledge that the security situation in Iraq is perilous and changes cannot wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November.
"Obviously, President Bush doesn't want to impeach his policies, but look ... I think what the president has to say is, 'I recognize things are not proceeding as well as they have to, and we have to do three more things and here's what they are.' But I think he's got to take a more realistic stance, because if not, I am afraid we're going to be in irons until after the election and I don't know we have that opportunity to waste that time," Ullman said.
Bush's speech to the General Assembly last year focused on a plea for assistance in Iraq, which he did not receive. Since then, the U.S. relationship to the United Nations has frosted as several analysts and even the U.S. public have questioned the body's legitimacy. A FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll taken in August showed that of those surveyed, 40 percent said that U.N. policies are anti-American compared to 31 percent who said they are pro-American. Another 54 percent said U.N. policies do not reflect the values of average Americans.
Adding to doubts about the international body's legitimacy are several events that have unfolded over the last year suggesting that the United Nations has been deliberately silent on crucial matters or even outright involved in a growing scandal about the body's complicity in an Oil-for-Food scandal. That scandal, which resulted in the disappearance of $10 billion, allegedly benefited individuals inside and close to the United Nations, including supposedly Annan's son and Benon Sevan, the U.N. overseer of the Oil-for-Food program, as well as Russia, France and China, three member nations on the U.N. Security Council who opposed the coalition effort in Iraq.
"[France was] steeped in this corrupt process that enabled them to make billions of dollars. I think [former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] bought them off and made a heck [of] a lot of money in the process," said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who heads the House subcommittee investigating the Oil-for-Food scandal. "This is such an outrageous thing, and the U.N. was making 3 percent on total sales, and they were making that supposedly legitimately, but then there were all these rip-offs that occurred as well."
Shays said that the United Nations essentially shut its eyes to a system in which Hussein "undersold the oil and got huge kickbacks and then he overpaid for commodities and he got huge kickbacks." Shays said almost undoubtedly some of that money ended up in the hands of terrorists.
"I think it's definitely possible and it is probably very likely," he told FOX News. "Money went in lots of different directions, and Saddam took the money wherever he could get it and he gave it wherever it benefited him."
"There's a strong sense within the American government that the Security Council of the United Nations is not on our side. French President [Jacques] Chirac, for example, his political career has actually been funded by Saddam Hussein. His RPR party was literally a creation of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party. That's where the money was laundered," said national security analyst John Loftus. "In terms of the Soviet Union, now Russia, their oil interests and Saddam's oil interests went hand-in-hand. Russia was probably one of the larger countries involved in the oil-for-fraud program, along with the French. The French, Russia and Chinese were the main exploiters."
Iran's Nuke Dreams Unchecked
Aside from the brewing scandal over illicit Oil-for-Food money, lawmakers and other national security analysts say Bush also needs to address Iran's continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons. While the Islamic government in Tehran claims that it is pursuing nuclear energy — despite its massive oil deposits — Iran has refused to comply with demands from the U.N.'s nuclear energy watchdogs that it disclose its nuclear ambitions.
"I suppose they're looking at the situation with Iraq where there were a lot of resolutions and there was a lot of activity but no real serious repercussions," Nelson said, explaining that Iran continues to hear demands for denuclearization or a status report of its plans, but sees no penalty for noncompliance. "I think Iran is just seeing that probably is working and will continue to do that until the member nations start insisting even more forcefully that they come clean with the information."
"We do think that their program for nuclear weapons is really serious, a serious threat not only to the security of that region but to the entire world. And they need to come clean with what they're doing, open their facilities up for inspections, and the president, I hope, will make that point," Cochran said.
Loftus added that China's sale of nuclear weapons is also a problem that has been overlooked by the United Nations. But with the replacement this weekend of military chief Jiang Zemin, who is purported to have sold blueprints for nuclear weapons to Libya and elsewhere, with his presidential successor Hu Jintao, reformers may be winning the day in China.
"Maybe there's hope that we will be able to get a handle on this, controlling this international sale of nuclear arms. But right now, it looks as if the Security Council is one of the worst violators of the nuclear charter," he said.
Loftus said he expected the president to exchange some sharp words with Annan behind the scenes this week. In the meantime, however, the president must also put on display his compassionate side, the two senators said.
"I think there's a great opportunity for all [of] us to join together and I applaud the fact the president is taking that message to the member nations because we all ought to be joined together in that fight," Nelson said.
"I think it's a very important opportunity for the president to remind the United Nations that the United States intends to continue its leadership role in addressing world health concerns, peace and security issues as well as moving the world along economically, improving economic opportunity for individuals worldwide," added Cochran.
Also expected to speak at this week's opening session is Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who will discuss his country's post-Taliban successes. Afghanistan is expected to hold its democratic elections next month. On the sidelines of the world forum, two leaders — Indian Prime Minister Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf — are slated to sit down for the first time and discuss relations between the longtime adversaries and two nuclear rivals.
Other hot topics during the opening session include the Middle East peace process, the voluntary disarmament of opposition groups in Haiti and human rights violations in Sudan.
Loftus said the Oil-for-Food scandal most likely helped perpetuate the crisis in Sudan, where Arab gangsters are killing black Christians in the Sudanese state of Darfur. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called the monthslong purge a genocide.
"After the fall of Saddam Hussein, France, Russia and China were big losers so China especially does not want to lose its market in Sudan. So what if a little genocide was occurring? It's not the first time there has been blood mixed with oil," he said.
FOX News' Anne Woolsey contributed to this report.