/ 25 September 2007

Bush to focus on Burma, not Iran, in UN speech

President George Bush is set to announce new United States sanctions against Burma over human rights as the annual United Nations General Assembly gathering of world leaders gets under way on Tuesday.

Bush is one of the first speakers on a list that later features Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and diplomats will be watching to see if the leaders of the two bitterly hostile countries cross paths or exchange words.

But despite the United States leading efforts for more UN sanctions against Iran to curtail its nuclear programme, Bush will only make a brief mention of Tehran in his speech, the White House said.

”The speech is not about Iran,” spokesperson Dana Perino said. ”The speech is about liberation and how liberation from poverty, disease, hunger, tyranny and oppression and ignorance can lift people up out of poverty and despair.”

Bush will advocate supporting groups in Burma that are trying to advance freedom and announce new sanctions directed at key members of the military rulers and their financial supporters, said White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

”He’s going to talk about the importance of continuing to support the humanitarian organisations that are trying to deal with the needs of the people of Burma on the ground,” he said.

Buddhist monks were joined by tens of thousands of protesters on marches in Burma on Monday in the biggest demonstration against the ruling generals since they crushed student-led protests nearly 20 years ago.

”Our hope is to marry that internal pressure with some external pressure — coming from the United States, the United Nations, and really all countries committed to freedom — to try and force the regime into a change,” Hadley said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Reuters in an interview on Monday that Washington would step up pressure for the UN Security Council to take action. China and Russia vetoed a resolution on Burma in January.

”The international community’s got to stand up much more than it has,” Rice said. ”I think what the Burmese junta is doing is just a reminder of how really brutal this regime is.”

The fact that Bush will only briefly mention Iran in his speech does not mean US concerns about Tehran have diminished, Perino said.

”We talk about Iran constantly,” she said. ”We’re talking about it with our partners to press on those UN Security Council resolutions.”

Ahmadinejad arrived in New York with a blitz of speaking engagements and media interviews, capturing much of the spotlight from other leaders in town for the General Assembly.

The US accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and supplying arms to insurgents in Iraq, and is pushing for a third UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran but faces opposition from China and Russia.

The General Assembly session follows three days of meetings UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had organised to underscore a central role of the world body. The sessions were on Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East and then a summit on climate change. – Reuters