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Analysis: Subtle Change in Tone at the UN

Council on Foreign Relations

Updated: September 26, 2007
Author: Robert McMahon

At a time of clamor in New York over the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and division in Washington over Iraq, President Bush gave both countries scant mention in his annual address to the UN General Assembly. Bush instead issued a broad appeal for fostering human rights and improving global development. The September 25 speech marked a departure for a president with a “history of laying out a hard line and challenging the United Nations to join him” (LAT).

But Bush’s speech was consistent with the “freedom agenda” first introduced in his 2005 inaugural speech. He hailed the “strides toward liberty” of countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Morocco, and emphasized the need for more international cooperation in efforts such as fighting malaria and spreading literacy. Bush scorned the actions of regimes in Zimbabwe, Cuba, and North Korea and announced sanctions against the military dictatorship in Myanmar, which has been cracking down on a new wave of popular dissent.

Some of the strongest opening day remarks on issues vexing Washington came from the new UN secretary-general and the new president of France. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the chamber that “Iraq has become the whole world’s problem (PDF)” and urged a UN role in its political reconciliation. He also reaffirmed his goal of UN reform, adding: “We need an internal climate change at the UN.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy sounded the toughest notes on Iran, saying “if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability (PDF) in the region and in the world.”

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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