He urged the U.N. to reform its Human Rights Council, which in the past has been chaired by Libya and other dictatorships, and said that the United States was open to an overhaul of the U.N. Security Council. The council is made up of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Bush said he thought Japan was "well qualified" for membership.
The president began a three-day visit to New York on Monday for the 62rd meeting of the General Assembly. He met privately at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who now represents the quartet -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- seeking to bring about a broad peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.
The General Assembly speech today veered away from the themes of terrorism and war that were the foundation of Bush's first speeches at the U.N. Instead, he turned to elements of foreign policy that carry less of an edge while still encouraging the spread of democracy and the fight against tyranny.
The shift in tone comes at a time when Bush is struggling in a political world grown increasingly unfriendly, both at home and abroad.
It was at the U.N. last year that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- never a friend of Bush -- likened the American president to a visitor from the underworld, saying, "The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still today."
But even international allies are growing skittish. Britain, under new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hopes to scale down its commitment of troops in Iraq. And at home, notwithstanding the Democrats' inability to force Bush's hand in Iraq, there are few signs that public opposition to the war is weakening.
The president's history of laying out a hard line and challenging the United Nations to join him frequently has left him searching for friends in an organization that has been described with scorn by the White House.
By contrast, the call for cooperation on a humanitarian agenda "certainly is a stronger message for a U.S. president than challenging the relevance of the United Nations," said P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow and the director for homeland security at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington.