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Arabs criticize Bush's U.N. speech, saying it emphasizes split with international community

BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bush's speech to the United Nations offered nothing new and showed little grasp of Middle Eastern realities, Arabs said Wednesday.

"President Bush and the world are still poles apart," Sahar Baasiri said in a front-page editorial in Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper. "He spoke extensively of his fine achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq — as if people are ignorant of what is happening in both countries."

In his speech at the annual opening meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Bush urged allies to put aside bitter divisions over the U.S.-led war and help lead a massive reconstruction effort.

The president also said all parties in the Middle East must meet their responsibilities: "Israel must work to create the conditions that will allow a peaceful Palestinian state to emerge, and Arab nations must cut off funding and other support for terrorist organizations."

Al Watan newspaper in Qatar accused Bush of approaching the Palestinian-Israeli dispute with "an extremist Israeli mentality."

In the streets of Baghdad, university student Kamal Taha said he could not watch Bush's address on Tuesday because his district's power supply was still wrecked by U.S. bombing during the war.

"Bush should fix the damage so that we would be able to listen and see his speeches," Taha said.

But some Baghdad residents did manage to hear the U.S. president, who insisted the shift to self-government in Iraq can be "neither hurried nor delayed."

"Bush's speech was bad," said former Iraqi army Col. Anmar Mohammed, who is now unemployed. "He talked about Iraq being the front line for combating terrorism, while it was Bush's war that brought terrorists to our country. He talked about better life for the Iraqis, while now most of them are jobless."

Baghdad newspaper seller Abdel-Razq Mohammed also was critical.

"Bush said many nice words about freedom, security and prosperity, but the Iraqi people need to see action. Saddam would have done better with less words," Mohammed said.

The speech was "weak and dull," said one of the United Arab Emirates' leading papers, Al-Khaleej, adding that the Bush administration lacks credibility.

The Jordanian columnist Mohammed Kawash of Al Arab Al Yawm said Bush "did not offer anything new."

"He reopened his old notebooks and played the tune of weapons of mass destruction and the U.N.'s role in demanding the disarming of Iraq," Kawash said, referring to Bush's prewar campaign against Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper was less critical, saying Bush's speech "was not nearly as discouraging as some had feared, but nor did it move the Iraq controversy any closer to a viable solution."

"At best, the president of the United States seemed to be stalling for time, apparently under the illusion that standing still is a substitute for building the necessary support for a workable plan that might salvage the situation (in Iraq)," the Daily Star said in an editorial.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat did not criticize Bush but urged him to do more.

"It's time for President Bush to transfer his vision for a Palestinian state into a realistic political track," he told The Associated Press.

Palestinian political scientist Ali Jarbawi said the speech reflected the Bush administration's "severe failure" in the Middle East, "especially on the Iraqi and Palestinian issues."