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Bush Addresses U.N. Today

World leaders gathering at the United Nations confront a depressing global agenda dominated by new terrorist threats, a humanitarian disaster in Sudan, turmoil in Iraq, and a growing gap between the richest and poorest inhabitants of planet Earth.

President Bush signaled that there will be a sharp shift in the U.S. focus at this year's ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday - with Iraq sharing the spotlight with humanitarian issues, not dominating the two-week session.

Mr. Bush said Saturday that in his speech he would "talk about the great possibilities of our time to improve health, expand prosperity and extend freedom in the world."

But even before the meeting began, the United States was criticized by French President Jacques Chirac for refusing to endorse a declaration backed by 110 countries to fight hunger and to increase funds to help millions escape the poverty trap.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says if there is one theme to the two-week ministerial meeting of the 191-member General Assembly it's "the rule of law."

A senior U.N. official, previewing Annan's speech at Tuesday's opening session, said it would focus, "very unhappily," on those who break laws on the basic rules of human conduct, which include respect for innocent civilians, children and prisoners of war.

Daily examples are evident in Iraq where hostages are beheaded, Sudan's Darfur region where the United States claims a genocide has occurred, northern Uganda, Israel and the Palestinian territories and just recently in Beslan, Russia, where a school was seized and hundreds of children were taken hostage.

"So this is a rather lawless world that we're living in, and we all have to ask ourselves why is it that people don't respect the rules?," said the official on Annan's staff, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said there is a feeling the rules are made "by some bunch of very rich and powerful people, or rich and powerful states, who make them for their own convenience and don't respect them when it's not convenient."

Annan will argue for the rule of law in every country - laws that all peoples are bound by and will obey.

Internationally, he will again raise the issue of whether the U.N. Security Council should have the right to intervene in a country to prevent a massacre like that in Rwanda - something many countries view as a violation of their sovereignty, the official said.

The need to protect innocent civilians from attacks is currently being debated by a high-level panel appointed last year by Annan to determine the major challenges facing the world in the new millennium and recommend ways to address them, including reforming the United Nations itself. Their report, expected in December, will be the basis of a major report by the secretary-general to the 191 U.N. member states in the spring.

Annan plans to invite all world leaders to next year's ministerial meeting of the General Assembly to act on the recommendations, and to assess progress toward meeting the goals that world leaders agreed on at the 2000 Millennium Summit.

They include halving the number of people living in dire poverty, and ensuring that all children have an elementary school education, that all families have clean water, and that the AIDS epidemic is halted - all by 2015.

"It is easy to say that something must be done to generate more resources to defeat poverty and hunger. The challenge is what to do," Annan said. "With creativity and political will, we could do much better."

The United Nations said 66 heads of state, 28 heads of government will address the General Assembly along with dozens of ministers.

U.N. officials and diplomats say the exceptionally large high-level turnout would give leaders from developing countries a chance to be heard, and hopefully focus attention on conflicts from Congo to Sudan.

Iraq's Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is expected to attend Tuesday's opening session and will make his debut before the world body on Friday.

Top officials from the four parties that drafted the road map to Middle East peace - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - also are scheduled to meet informally. Arab diplomats said this was an indication of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the grim prospects for the road map's implementation.

By Edith M. Lederer