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Vive La First Lady In France

French President Jacques Chirac, right, kisses the hand of American first lady Laura Bush upon her arrival for a courtesy call at the Elysee Palace in Paris Monday, Sept. 29, 2003. Laura Bush is in France to attend ceremonies marking America's re-entry to UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
AP
First lady Laura Bush celebrated America's rejoining of the United Nations' main cultural organization Monday as a crucial partnership in the battle against "an ideology of hate and violence."

"Peace" and "education" were the keywords in the First Lady's address to UNESCO as the U.S. rejoined that international body for science, culture and education after 19 years, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe.

"Education and cooperation can lead to peace, understanding, and progress," said Bush.

The first lady, on the second day of a five-day journey through Paris and Moscow, urged members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to work together to further education, tolerance and respect for human life.

"UNESCO ... can now help achieve peace by spreading the values that will help defeat terror and lead to a better and safer world," Bush said in a keynote address to the group's meeting. "As the civilized world stands against terror, UNESCO's work can make an enormous difference."

President Bush announced a year ago that the United States would rejoin UNESCO after an absence since 1984 from a group once labeled corrupt and anti-Western. The White House hopes the re-enty into the international organization will help offset criticism that Mr. Bush's foreign policies in Iraq and elsewhere have amounted to a go-it-alone stance.

The first lady stressed the U.S. will be an active partner.

"We have much to offer and we have much to learn," she said.

The former teacher and librarian, who in February became UNESCO's honorary ambassador for the U.N. Decade of Literacy, said education to "all the world's sons and daughters" is the world's most urgent priority.

"The more children learn about other countries, faiths and cultures, the more likely they are to respect other people," she said. "Education can help children see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness."

Bush called for a global commitment to primary education, in a world where over 100 million children — 60 percent of them girls — have no access to school. She announced the U.S. government plans to re-open by next fall the American School in Kabul, Afghanistan, a country where 1.5 million children lack the buildings or teachers to go to school, and talked of U.S. military efforts in Iraq to refurbish 1,600 schools and re-open more than 80 percent of primary and secondary institutions.

"For people throughout the world, and especially for women and girls, education is power — the power to control their own destinies."

Starting a whirlwind day in France's capital, Bush paid a 40-minute relations-mending social call at the Elysee Palace at the request of French President Jacques Chirac.

Preceded by greeters in white tie, red waistcoats and tails in the palace courtyard, Chirac joined Bush at her limousine and kissed her on the hand. He sent her off by repeating the gentlemanly flourish.

Officials said the visit was friendly.

"The president has sent his most important emissary," U.S. Ambassador Howard Leach told Chirac.

Chirac was clearly determined to keep the meeting on lighter ground, evidenced when Leach mentioned Iraq — a subject of sharp disagreement between the U.S. and France, a White House official said. Chirac responded by saying, "Let bygones be bygones — we all agree we need to rebuild Iraq," and then quickly steered the conversation to Bush's travel plans and charity work, the official said.

Bush did not discuss Iraq with Chirac, the official said. But in her speech, she alluded to international difficulties over the war and postwar there. "Surely we can agree that rebuilding (Iraq) ... is in all of our best interests," she said. "The presence of a peaceful stable Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a powerful beacon for freedom — and example of hope — in that vital region."

After her speech, Bush also met briefly with Iraq's minister of education, Al'Adin Alwan.

The rest of her day was taken up with lunch with UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsura and an evening celebration at Leach's residence, where Bush is staying.

Formed in 1945 to promote international exchanges, UNESCO helps modernize education systems, establish standards on bioethics, and preserve cultural and natural treasures through its World Heritage List.