US President tightens focus on Middle East democracy (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) WASHINGTON 02/03/05 9:19 AM ET)
AFP} Agence France Presse
AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-Top
WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush laid out plans in his
State of the Union speech to spread democracy across the Middle East -
- starting with Iraq and a Palestinian state living at peace with
"To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the
United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the
common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of
freedom," Bush said late Wednesday.
Speaking to a joint session of the US Congress and a television
audience of millions, Bush had tough words for Syria and Iran and a
rare message to allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia that they, too, must
embrace democratic reforms.
Bush said that Sunday´s elections in Iraq had opened "a new phase"
for US-led efforts there, and declared that American troops would
increasingly play "a supporting role" to fledgling Iraqi security
But he categorically rejected calls to set a specific timetable for
pulling the roughly 150,000 US troops from that war-torn country,
saying: "That would embolden the terrorists and make them believe
they can wait us out."
"In the end, Iraqis must be able to defend their own country -- and
we will help that proud, new nation secure its liberty," the
president said 22 months after he ordered the invasion to topple
Bush used his annual address to recommit himself to the Middle East
peace process and asked lawmakers for 350 million dollars to promote
Palestinian political, economic and security reforms.
"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," said the US president.
Bush noted that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was leaving
Thursday on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for
talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader
The president´s remarks fleshed out this inauguration promise two
weeks ago to spread democracy in the Middle East as the antidote to
the extremism that spawned terrorists like those who carried out the
September 11, 2001 attacks.
In addition to admonishing Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Bush warned
Damascus and Tehran to stop backing terrorism and declared: "To the
Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty,
America stands with you."
"The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the
region by expanding the role of its people in determining their
future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way
toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward
democracy in the Middle East," he said.
Where he had lumped Iran with North Korea and Saddam Hussein´s Iraq
in an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union, Bush said he was
working with European allies to defuse the dispute over Iran´s atomic
And he made just a one-sentence reference to the crisis over North
Korea´s nuclear programs, saying he was cooperating with Asian
countries to end the crisis over Pyongyang´s nuclear programs.
Ahead of the speech, White House spokesman Scott 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."
Throughout the speech, there were symbolic touches: Some Republican
lawmakers had blue dye on their fingers, imitating the purple ink on
the hands of Iraqi voters.
In First Lady Laura Bush´s guest box, the mother of a US Marine
killed in Iraq hugged the daughter of an Iraqi man slain by Saddam´s
secret police in 1996, and the two briefly got tangled when the
Marine´s dog tag -- held by his mother -- snagged the Iraqi woman´s
On the domestic front, Bush urged the US Congress to help overhaul
the beloved government-run Social Security (news - web sites) pension
program, which he proposes to partially privatize. The controversial
proposal has polarized lawmakers.
Bush also called 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.
The president´s remarks were interrupted numerous times by thunderous
cheers and applause from Republican lawmakers, while the Democratic
ranks remained in stony silence and in some cases, as when Bush
rolled out his pension program, even heckled and shouted "No! No!"
In their response to Bush´s speech, top Democratic lawmakers said
Bush was on the wrong track in his proposal to reform the pension
system, and inadequate in his planning for Iraq.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Bush´s plan to privatize
social security was "dangerous"
because it would add another two trillion dollars on the already
record high 4.3 trillion dollars national debt. "That´s an immoral
burden to place on the backs of the next generation," he added.
Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader in the House of Representatives,
tackled Bush´s Iraq policy: "We have never heard a clear plan from
this administration for ending our presence in Iraq. And we did not
hear one tonight."
Pelosi also chided the president for inadequately protecting the
homeland from terrorism: "Despite the administration´s rhetoric,
airline cargo still goes uninspected, shipping containers go
unscreened, and our railroads and power plants are not secure."
"For three years, the president has failed to put together a
comprehensive plan to protect America from terrorism, and we did not
hear one tonight," Pelosi said.
Leading US dailies on Thursday praised Bush for setting ambitious
foreign and domestic goals, but also agreed that his State of the
Union speech did not fully address some issues and omitted other more
While the speech will be remebered for Bush´s "call to stay the
course in Iraq and change the course of Social Security," wrote The
New York Times, "on both counts, Mr. Bush fudged the most critical
points." (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/03/05)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY