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Bush to push Iraq, Middle East policies in State of the Union speech (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) WASHINGTON 02/02/05 2:13 PM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=13&u=/afp/20050202/wl_mideast_afp/usbushiraq_050202191328 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush was to use his State of the Union speech to champion his Iraq policy and push controversial domestic initiatives, while vowing to make progress on Middle East peace.

Looking to his place in history, Bush was to spend roughly 40 minutes starting at 9:00 pm (0200 GMT) laying out his second-term priorities to a joint session of the US Congress and a television audience of millions.

The annual address came two weeks after Bush vowed at his inauguration to spread democracy across the Islamic world and days after Iraqis voted in the first competitive elections there in half a century.

Bush will recommit himself to the Middle East peace process, taking aim at critics who say he has kept those efforts at arm´s length, noting the recent Palestinian elections and hailing other steps towards ending violence there.

A summit planned for next week in Egypt between Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is "an encouraging step," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.

Bush is also sending newly minted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region.

On Iraq, the US leader was to urge even critics of the war to help Iraqis build democratic institutions, while rejecting calls to set a specific timetable for pulling the roughly 150,000 US troops out of Iraq, aides said.

"We´re not talking about an exit strategy. We´re talking about a strategy for success in Iraq," senior Bush adviser Dan Bartlett told NBC television.

"That means to help the Iraqi people, help this new elected government take control of their own destiny, take control of security forces, build up not only the quantity of the security forces, but also the quality of the security forces," he said.

Bush was expected to reiterate that he believes that a democracy in Iraq will set an example for reformers across the Middle East and strike a blow at terrorists like those who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In a bid to defuse concerns of possible US military action against Iran or North Korea, both locked in nuclear disputes with the United States, Bush was to make clear he seeks a peaceful solution through multilateral diplomacy.

During this 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush had branded those regimes part of an "axis of evil" with Saddam Hussein´s Iraq, and Washington has toughened its rhetoric against both in recent weeks.

McClellan called North Korea´s nuclear program and "past and continuing" sales of weapons technology "a threat to global peace," adding: "We would urge North Korea to return to the six-party talks soon."

The US leader was also to renew his pledge to provide 15 billion dollars over five years to battle the spread of HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS worldwide.

Bush was also to make his most aggressive push yet on his top domestic policy goals, chief among them partially privatizing the huge Social Security pension system and keeping a tight lid on government spending.

He was to make a call for fiscal restraint ahead of unveiling his 2006 budget on Monday, when he is expected to propose a virtual freeze on discretionary spending, excluding defense and homeland security.

It was unclear how much detail Bush would offer on any of his plans: Officials have said he will be more specific on issues such as Social Security, but not offer any concrete legislative proposals.

On Iraq, Bush has spoken to no fewer than 14 world leaders to hail the elections there and seek to erase trans-Atlantic divisions over the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam as well as forge a consensus on helping Iraqis build a new government.

Bush was due to take that message later this month to Europe, where he will meet with EU and NATO leaders as well as three staunch critics of the war: French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The outreach comes as the mounting human and financial cost of the Iraq war and the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction at the core of the case for war has fueled rising US discontent about the invasion. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/02/05)

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