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Peace in Middle East tantalisingly close, says Bush (LONDON TIMES) From Roland Watson in Washington 02/03/05)Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,251-1468540,00.html LONDON TIMES LONDON TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
THE goal of an independent Palestine and an enduring peace in the Middle East is tantalisingly close, President Bush said last night, pledging US help to forge such a future.

“The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach — and America will help them achieve that goal,” Mr Bush said in his State of the Union address.

Mr Bush also claimed that Iraq’s elections marked a “new phase” in the American mission in which US troops would increasingly focus on training their Iraqi successors.

He avoided all talk of an exit strategy, instead saying that the sizeable turnout of voters on Sunday should silence sceptics who still doubted that the US could secure an independent and democratic future for post-Saddam Iraq.

“We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty — as they showed the world last Sunday,” he said.

“Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honoured in Iraq. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come.”

Mr Bush also set his sights on the monarchies and autocracies of the Middle East, saying he would work to combat terrorism and encourage “a higher standard of freedom” for their people.

He said that he would “continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time”, suggesting he would continue to place pragmatic coalition-building ahead of traditional transatlantic ties.

Attention in the US was fixed chiefly on the domestic portion of his annual address, in which Mr Bush set out a “blueprint” for his second term. He seized the hottest political issue, reform of the state pension, making clear he would advocate direct to Americans his plans for a partial privatisation, even though Democrats have pronounced the policy doomed.

Mr Bush sought to allay fears that he was playing with Americans’ inheritance, promising to treat one of the cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal with care. “One of America’s most important institutions — a symbol of the trust between generations — is in need of wise and effective reform,” he said. Fixing it would require an “open and candid” review of the options.

After weeks in which the White House has held the issue at arm’s length while Administration officials appeared to flounder, Mr Bush was aiming to use his prime-time speech to end doubts about his willingness to gamble his authority on the issue. It is currently the all-consuming US domestic issue and the stakes appear heavily loaded against the President.

Republican senators and congressional representatives who face the voters next year in the mid-term elections are wary of grappling with the issue. But Mr Bush tied the success of his presidency strongly to the success of pension reform, saying it was critical to the country’s future. He embarks today on a five-state tour to sell the reform direct to voters.

Mr Bush used the pageantry of the occasion, watched by all branches of the US Government packed into the House of Representatives, to mark his achievements in the War on Terror. Laura Bush was seated in the First Lady’s Box next to an Iraqi and an Afghan who had taken part in their country’s respective elections. (Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. 02/03/05)

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