Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bush Calls War On Terror A Global Conflict

Dow Jones Newswires, Alex Keto:
President George W. Bush said Tuesday that freedom is spreading in the Middle East, while singling out Syria and Iran for harsh criticism for their continued support of terrorist organizations.

In an address flagged by the White House as a major policy speech, Bush called on Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon before parliamentary elections there in May, and warned that an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons would destabilize the entire Middle East. read more

He also said the American people stand with the Lebanese in their effort to free Lebanon from Syrian occupation. Once democracy comes to Lebanon, it will place every Arab regime in the region under pressure to liberalize their governments, he said.

White House officials had said the president wanted to highlight the gains the democratic movement has already made in the broader Middle East with the elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. They also see the current spread of democracy in the region as a pivotal moment and want to do what they can to encourage it.

"We meet at a time of great consequence for the security of our nation, a time when the defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom, a time with echoes in our history," Bush said.

Bush mentioned the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and on the World Trade Center in 2001 that drew the U.S. into global conflict, this time against terrorist organizations and the countries that back them.

The president vowed to lead free nations to victory over the threat of terrorism but warned the fight could last for generations.

Progress has been made confronting both threats, Bush said.

While some al-Qaida leaders remain free, notably Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bush said other top al-Qaida commanders have been captured.

Likewise, the number of countries actively backing terror groups has been diminished but not eliminated.

While Bush vowed to continue on the offensive against terror groups, Bush said this alone doesn't constitute a long-term strategy.

"Our strategy to keep the peace in the longer term is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East. Parts of that region have been caught for generations in the cycle of tyranny and despair and radicalism," Bush said.

Dictatorships in the region have pushed their own people toward extremism and fostered hatred to distract their populations from the failings of their societies.

"This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off. Because we have witnessed how the violence in that region can easily reach across borders and oceans, the entire world has an urgent interest in the progress and hope and freedom in the broader Middle East," Bush said.

"The advance of hope in the Middle East requires new thinking in the region. By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future. It is the last gasp of a discredited past," he added.

Bush said leaders in the Middle East now face a critical moment in which they have to choose whether they support democratic reforms or will simply hunker down.

In the case of Lebanon, Bush pointed to the growing number of countries calling for Damascus to pull its troops and intelligence agents out of the country and laid down a timetable for doing so.

Bush rejected an announcement from Syria that it would shift its troops eastward in Lebanon, calling the measures a "delaying tactic."

"All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair," Bush said.

He added the May elections must be monitored by international observers to make sure they are free and fair.

"Today, I have a message for the people of Lebanon. All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. Lebanon's future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon's future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side," Bush said.

Bush also repeated accusations that Syria helped orchestrate a bombing attack in Tel Aviv recently and warned that Damascus may try the tactic again. However, he added both Syria and Iran must stop the practice of attacking others covertly.

"The time has come for Syria and Iran to stop using murder as a tool of policy, and to end all support for terrorism," Bush said.

Despite the attack, Bush said the outlook for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is hopeful. He repeated his long-standing view that the best way to achieve peace is for all parties in the region to take action.

For the Israelis, this means a halt to building settlements in the occupied territories and help build up the Palestinian economy.

The Palestinians must implement more democratic reforms, fight corruption and clamp down on terrorists. Bush promised to help rebuild Palestinian security forces so they have the strength to confront terrorists.

Finally, Bush said Arab nations must halt the incitement of hatred of Israel, curtail the promotion of extremism in education, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

However, Bush also warned that the Middle East's stability is threatened by weapons of mass destruction and warned Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons.

"We share the view that Iran 's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be destabilizing and threatening to all of Iran 's neighbors. The Iranian regime should listen to the concerns of the world and listen to the voice of the Iranian people, who long for their liberty and want their country to be a respected member of the international community," Bush said.

Bush also delivered a veiled warning to both Syria and Iran not to interfere in Iraq as the Iraqi people write a constitution.

"Iraq's leaders are forming a government that will oversee the next and critical stage in Iraq's political transition: the writing of a permanent constitution. This process must take place without external influence. The shape of Iraq's democracy must be determined by the Iraqis themselves," Bush said.

As he has in the past, Bush said that ultimately it will be the Iraqi people who defend their democracy. He gave no timeline for when U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the country.

To critics of his policy, Bush said the past should serve as an object lesson, adding that the support of dictatorships in the Middle East hasn't led to security but only furthers instability.