Bush’s U.N. Speech Seen As Political Address, Too
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ George Bush’s speech to the U.N. Security Council, voicing compassion for victims of a U.S.-downed Iranian airliner while insisting that Iran share responsiblity, gave the vice president a forum for displaying traits he has hoped to project in his White House campaign.
The high-profile address on Thursday, in which Bush looked straight at his Iranian accuser and told him ″of course we care,″ was viewed by aides as a demonstration of his leadership, compassion and foreign-policy credentials.
Bush’s expressions of regret went further than his past reaction to the downing of the plane, which he previously had called ″just an unhappy incident″ while telling audiences ″life goes on.″
″Anytime you can go and speak forcefully about bringing peace to this part of the world, it’s worth doing,″ said Bush chief of staff Craig Fuller afterwards. ″He didn’t do it for political reasons. But I do not believe it will be harmful politically.″
Bush, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to 1973, denounced as ″offensive and absurd″ Iranian suggestions that the downing of Iran Air 635 containing 290 people on July 3 was intentional or reckless.
And he told the world organization Iran ″must bear a substantial measure of responsiblity for what has happened″ by refusing to divert the airliner away from a combat zone.
″There are three ways for Iran to avoid future tragedies,″ Bush said. ″Keep airliners away from combat, stop attacking innocent ships. Or better still, the best way is peace.″
He called for Iran to immediately adhere to a U.N. resolution calling for a ceasefire in the region.
At the same time, the vice president said this nation’s reaction to the accidental downing of the plane ″fills our hearts with sorrow″ that ″transcends political differences and boundaries.″
Aides said that Bush’s presentation was written by three or four speechwriters, with most of the ideas for its wording coming from him. The text was coordinated with both the State Department and the National Security Council before Bush delivered it, the aides said.
Departing from his prepared text, Bush looked across the semi-circular council table at Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati and said in measured tones, ″Of course we feel badly about it, or course we have compassion. Of course we care.″
″The United States has never willfully acted to endanger innocent civilians, nor will it ever,″ Bush said.
″Contrast this with the willful detention, in inhuman conditions, of Americans and others held hostage against their will. One course is civilized; the other barbaric.″
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force II on his way to New York, Bush said President Reagan ″decided to put some real emphasis on the policy of the United States by elevating the level of representation.″
His presentation of the U.S. case to the world forum was one of Bush’s most highly visible assignments as vice president, and it comes just days before Democrats assemble in Atlanta to formally select Michael Dukakis as their presidential nominee.
It was his first speech to the Security Council since he served there, although he addressed the General Assembly in 1986 in a ceremony honoring the U.N.’s 40th anniversary.
Aides said that Bush was pleased with the way his speech went.
Fuller, his chief-of-staff, declined to say whether the original idea for the appearance came from the White House or from the Bush camp. However, Fuller told reporters, ″He had an interest in doing it. It was very genuine, a reflection of George Bush’s commitment to bring peace to the region.″
It was Bush’s last scheduled public appearance until next Wednesday, when he begins a six-day campaign swing. He planned to spend most of the time on a private fishing trip in Wyoming with Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, a close friend and adviser.
Speaking with reporters on his plane about the current political situation, Bush said that he was not troubled by Dukakis’ selection of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, as his running mate altough called it ″an unusual choice.″
Asked whether the placement on the ticket of Bentsen, who had defeated him in a 1970 Senate race, would make him campaign harder for Texas’ 29 electoral votes, Bush said, ″I don’t know. I certainly won’t lighten up.″
″I plan to spend a lot of time in Texas anyway. I am certainly not going to take Texas for granted and I will win Texas.″
″The race is going to be determined, as I said in 1980 and as I said in 1984, by the top of the ticket. That’s what will determine it in Texas and elsewhere.″
Bush also gently rebuked Dukakis for his failure to notify Democrat Jesse Jackson in advance of his intention to select Bentsen. ″I don’t want to second guess somebody else, but you want to bend over backwards and be as considerate of other people as possible in politics,″Bush said.