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Published: Tuesday, 9/19/2006

Bush assures Muslims U.S. not at war with Islam

ASSOCIATED PRESS

UNITED NATIONS President Bush today appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations.

On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not.

But his speech to the United Nations General Assembly was less confrontational and aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States.

My country desires peace, Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the U.N. Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam.

Addressing Iraqis specifically, Bush said, We will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation.

Bush said Iran must abandon it s nuclear weapons ambitions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak to the body later today, but he was not at the country s table in the hall when Bush spoke.

Speaking to Iranians, Bush said their country s future has been clouded because your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation s resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.

Iran s defiant pursuit of a nuclear program was at the top of the agenda when Bush met earlier with French President Jacques Chirac at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying. The French leader is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

Should they continue to stall, Bush said of Iranian leaders, we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling. The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.

Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment in which case the U.S. will come to the table.

But he also stressed that he and Chirac share the same objective and we re going to continue to strategize together.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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