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Bush gets icy reception at U.N. meet

UNITED NATIONS — A president who led his allies' forces to victory, ostensibly on behalf of the United Nations, would in theory deserve a hero's welcome. But that was not what President Bush encountered in an icy chamber here on Tuesday, almost five months after he declared an end to major hostilities in Iraq.

Without apology, Bush declared that the Security Council had been "right to demand that Iraq destroy its illegal weapons and prove that it had done so" and "right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply." The United States, he said, had not only unseated Saddam Hussein but also rescued "the credibility of the United Nations."

But that was not how others, from the secretary-general of the United Nations to the French president, saw it. The invasion of Iraq, to them, remained a dangerous act of unilateralism now beset by intractable problems.

The audience of world leaders seemed to perceive an American president weakened by plunging approval ratings at home; facing a tough security situation in Iraq, where U.S. soldiers are dying every week; and confronted by the beginnings of a revolt against the U.S. timetable for self-rule by several Iraqi leaders installed by the United States.

Nor did they seem eager to help. If anything, they appeared more skeptical than ever of Bush's assertions, including his promise to "reveal the full extent" of illegal weapons programs he says exist in Iraq and unforthcoming, at least for now, in their response to his appeal for help in Iraq.

Despite good marks from many for his performance, Bush did not seem to have advanced his administration toward broadening support for an expanded U.N. role in Iraq.

"He gave a very sincere speech, but I don't think there was anything new," said a diplomat here. "The situation in Iraq is getting more difficult every day, and so is the atmosphere at the United Nations."

But Tuesday it was more obvious than ever that the key to getting troops and money for Iraq is in the hands of nations that, like France, opposed the war or were uneasy about it.

President Jacques Chirac of France was no less apologetic opposing the war than Bush had been in urging it. He called the division one of the gravest threats to multilateral institutions like the United Nations in modern times.

Even if the United States gets the resolution it desires, the money and troops may not be forthcoming in a way that the Bush administration had hoped.