United States expected little, and got it, at world gathering

Sunday, September 24, 2006

NEW YORK -- U.S. officials had low expectations for the current U.N. meetings, marked by anti-American insults heaped on President Bush, and have scant accomplishments to show so far.

The United States made few direct requests of other nations at the annual opening session and took minimal risks. Bush administration leaders did tone down the rhetoric that has played poorly abroad and refrained from criticizing the United Nations itself.

The approach reflected an attempt at rapprochement with countries still at odds with the United States on many levels, and acknowledgment that several of the administration's goals and initiatives for the Middle East, North Korea and elsewhere have stalled.

Unlike in years past, Bush's address to the General Assembly did not make waves. It was Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who attracted the rock star treatment and Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who drew applause when he called Bush "the devil."

"It does reflect a dissatisfaction with American power and American dominance in the world, a distaste for the war in Iraq, and the general foreign policy of the Bush administration," said Edward Luck, a professor of international relations at Columbia University in New York and an expert on the United Nations.

A June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that America's image in 15 nations dropped sharply in 2006. Less than one-third of the people in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey had a favorable view of the United States According to that poll, America's continued involvement in Iraq was seen as a worse problem than was Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

U.S. officials dismissed the anti-Bush remarks as demagoguery and pointed to what they say is successful or promising engagement on issues including Mideast peace and the effort to end the violence in Sudan.

"I think we had a good week," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "It was a good week for American diplomacy."

At best, however, it seemed more like a draw.

Iran probably was the biggest disappointment for Washington during the week.

The administration once hoped the session would be a turning point in the long standoff. But U.S. allies prevailed on the White House to back down, for now.

The U.S. had little choice: Its drive to impose any U.N. penalties against Iran has hit a wall and Iran so far has suffered no consequence for missing an August deadline by the U.N. to shelve its disputed nuclear work.

Over dinner with other Security Council diplomats in her suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Rice found herself reluctantly agreeing to give Iran some more time.

Rice said she has "great confidence" that the coalition she helped build against Iran remains committed to the U.N. demands and would move for penalties if Tehran balks.

"I am absolutely certain of that and we will do so," a slightly exasperated Rice told reporters Friday. "We want to give diplomacy its best chance, but I can assure you the time is not endless."

Associated Press writer Nick Wadhams at the United Nations contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Anne Gearan covers foreign affairs and diplomacy, based in Washington.

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