UNITED NATIONS – President Bush will remind the United Nations of its pledge to fight for freedom in countries where people live in poverty and under repressive regimes, and plans to punctuate his challenge with a promise of new sanctions against the military regime in Myanmar.
Bush was expected to mention Iran in his speech Tuesday morning to the General Assembly — but only briefly, citing Iran in a list of countries where people lack freedoms and live in fear. The White House wants to avoid giving any more attention to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose splash of speeches and interviews has dominated the days leading up to the U.N. meeting.
Instead of Iran, the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, also known as Burma, was drawing Bush's ire. He was expected to announce new visa restrictions and financial sanctions against the military-led regime and those who provide it financial aid.
The policies come as Myanmar's military government issued a threat Monday to the barefoot Buddhist monks who led 100,000 people marching through a major city. It was the strongest protest against the repressive regime in two decades.
Bush spent Monday trying to revive the Mideast peace process. He was reminded of the hurdles as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that a U.S. peace conference tackle "issues of substance."
Late Tuesday morning, Bush was to meet with another friendly leader facing tense circumstances, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The prime minister is deeply frustrated over the recent killing of 11 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA private security guards.
By calling on the U.N. to take up a "mission of liberation," Bush was posing a challenge to the world body to uphold its original goal of ensuring freedom from scourges including tyranny, disease, illiteracy and poverty. He was expected to lean heavily on the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved almost 60 years ago.
His aim is to remind the body that the expansion of freedom is not a Western goal, nor even just a Bush doctrine, but rather one that underpins the U.N. itself. The president heads to the forum, though, with his clout weakened by the ongoing war in Iraq.
His speech, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, is about "upholding the promise of the U.N. founding." Bush aides say that the president's address will stick to broad themes.
What it is not about, Perino said plainly, is Iran.
"The president wanted this speech to focus on many other issues that are facing the world — issues that people in the Sudan and Zimbabwe and Burma and countless other countries are dealing with," she said.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is expected to be a media lightning rod Tuesday leading up to and during his U.N. address.
While nothing new is expected in his speech later in the day, he will have to address his nation's continued refusal to abandon its nuclear program and U.N. sanctions.
Ahmadinejad on Monday caused a stir during speaking engagements at Columbia University and in a video news conference with journalists at the National Press Club.
In every instance, the university professor-turned international despot denied with a smile any and all charges relating to human rights violations, and accusations that he and his country seek the annihilation of Israel. He also continued his inference that the Holocaust was a myth, and denied Iran was engaged in supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents.
Thousands of people protested Ahmadinejad's visit Monday and more were expected to rally in the streets Tuesday when the he attends the U.N. General Assembly for the third time in three years.
Behind the scenes, the U.S. is aggressively pushing for a new round of Security Council sanctions against Iran for its defiance on the nuclear issue.
White House officials did not expect the two presidents to cross paths in the U.N. building.
Ahmadinejad also would not be attending the president's reception and dinner for fellow world leaders at his hotel in the evening.
"Lost in the mail," Perino said of Ahmadinejad's invitation.
Bush also will participate in a roundtable on democracy and take part in a U.N. Security Council session on crisis in Africa.
He had spent Monday trying to add some life to the Mideast peace process.
Appearing before reporters with Abbas after an hour-long meeting that also included Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Bush did not mention the fall conference he has championed.
He promised the United States "will be a strong partner" in establishing an independent state for Palestinians. "I believe that the vision of two states side by side in peace is achievable," Bush said.
But Abbas said the meeting should be the precursor to "full negotiations on the permanent status." Palestinians want the meeting to produce an outline for a peace deal, while the Israelis want more vague declarations.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as to more freely discuss the president's private talks, said "there will not be a negotiation" at the November meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report