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Bush accuses Tehran of being world´s primary state sponsor of terrorism (LONDON TIMES) From Roland Watson in Washington and Michael Theodoulou in Nicosia 02/04/05)Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,11069-1469823,00.html LONDON TIMES LONDON TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
PRESIDENT BUSH received an immediate fillip from his confident and ambitious State of the Union address as his poll rating jumped a dozen points overnight.

Reaction from overseas was much more guarded after Mr Bush used the occasion to prod US allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia to embrace democratic change. And Iranian reformers accused the President of doing more harm than good by directly challenging Tehran’s ruling theocrats to loosen their hold on power.

Mr Bush used his prime-time spotlight to expand on the vision of advancing freedoms that he addressed so strikingly at his inauguration two weeks ago. This time, though, instead of sticking to broad ideals, Mr Bush named names.

He branded Iran “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror” and said that Tehran must give up its uranium enrichment programme. With a flourish, Mr Bush added: “And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: as you stand for your own liberty, America stands by you.”

Syria, he said, continued to harbour terrorists “who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region”. Both regimes have been easy targets since Mr Bush launched the War on Terror four years ago.

Much more delicate was the public cajoling that the President directed at Egypt and Saudi Arabia, important US allies in the region despite their lack of political freedoms.

He made clear that he expected both to demonstrate a “higher standard of freedom” towards their own people.

Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic President who has ruled Egypt for 25 years, has hinted recently that he may seek a fifth six-year term. Mr Bush appeared to suggest that Mr Mubarak should allow an opponent to run against him for the first time.

“The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way towards peace in the Middle East, can now show the way towards democracy in the Middle East,” Mr Bush said.

He used a similar coaxing tone when addressing Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy which this month is to hold its first limited elections. Voters will be able to choose half the seats on municipal councils. Women can neither vote nor stand as candidates.

Mr Bush said: “The Government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future.”

As he spoke, Mr Bush was clearly buoyed by the success of Sunday’s elections in Iraq, a reward for his gamble in insisting that the polls should not be delayed despite the rampaging insurgency. But reformers in the countries that he named were underwhelmed by the President’s attention; some said that Mr Bush was in danger of setting back their cause.

Khaled al-Maeena, the editor of Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily, said: “People here are clamouring for more participation, empowerment, female involvement. But the people have to say it, not the US President.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry insisted that it did not regard Mr Bush’s words as a veiled rebuke. But Dia el-Din Dawoud, the head of the left-wing Nasserist party, said that Mr Bush should not meddle.

“We don’t want constitutional or democratic reform in Egypt, or in any Arab country, to be merely a response to American pressure, but to the interests of the people and of popular pressure,” he said.

Nor was Mr Bush’s finger-wagging at Tehran welcomed. A well-travelled businessman in Tehran said: “His speech may go down well with Iranians in Los Angeles, but at home it will only strengthen the hardliners.” Regional analysts also doubted whether US sabrerattling would succeed in quickening the painfully slow reforms of Bashar al-Assad, who trained in Britain as an eye doctor before succeeding his father as President of Syria in 2000.

But at home, where Mr Bush unveiled a clumsy concoction of initiatives, he went down well. The proportion of debate-watchers who thought that his policies in Iraq were heading in the right direction leapt overnight from 66 per cent to 78 per cent. Likewise, the proportion believing that the US was on the right track rose from 67 per cent to 77 per cent.

Mr Bush urged Congress to send $350 million (£185 million) to help to pay for security forces and economic reforms for Palestinians as a show of US goodwill.

On the domestic front, Mr Bush warned Congress to start curbing the $420 billion budget deficit. His 2006 budget, unveiled next week, will be the tightest budget of his presidency, eliminating or cutting 150 federal programmes.

Spending unrelated to the War on Terror will be held well below inflation. (Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. 02/04/05)

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