IT was a very different President Bush who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday afternoon from the one who had appeared at the same forum in the two previous years. Although the fundamentals of his message had not changed the tone of voice was noticeably less aggressive and assertive. There were no references to the risk of the UN becoming “irrelevant” if it did not see things as America did. Although he defended the US/UK invasion of Iraq he sought to emphasize what more could be achieved if other member states of the UN would assist the effort to restore Iraq to stability and establish democracy there. His closing words were that each state alone could do only so much, but “Together we could do so much more”.

The only countries that Mr Bush singled out for direct criticism were Sudan and Palestine. The references to Palestine were pointedly hostile: “The Palestinian people deserve better of their leaders,” he said and he suggested that other Middle East leaders should withhold support of adminstrations that fail their people and betray their cause. Israel was told to impose a settlement freeze pending final negotiations under the “road map” - an extraordinary statement when Mr Bush himself has only recently supported Israel's expansion of settlements on the West Bank.

ON Iraq, Mr Bush apparently still cannot understand why the coalition supporting the US and UK is so small and fragile. In one revealing phrase he said he wanted to thank those nations which had joined the coaltion “to enforce the just demands of the world”. But they did not do that; there was no “world” or UN demand to invade Iraq. It was America's unilateral demand. There lies the problem, still.