Iran Human RightsBush to say wants Iranians to have greater freedom

Bush to say wants Iranians to have greater freedom

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Reuters: President George W. Bush will offer words of support on Tuesday in his State of the Union address to Iranians who want greater freedom as U.S. diplomats push for sanctions over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – President George W. Bush will offer words of support on Tuesday in his State of the Union address to Iranians who want greater freedom as U.S. diplomats push for sanctions over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

In his annual speech, Bush will include a discussion of global hot spots and his drive for democracy worldwide, along with domestic priorities like improving the U.S. health-care system and promoting ways to wean Americans from foreign oil.

Bush is walking a tightrope with his Iran policy, denouncing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for refusing to halt a nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at developing an atomic weapon, while encouraging freedom in Iran and trying not to alienate the Iranian people.

“We want the people of Iran to be able to live in a free society,” Bush said during a Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss his annual State of the Union speech. “So tomorrow night I am going to talk about this issue and make clear the policy of the United States.”

The speech, to be delivered to a joint session of the U.S. Congress and millions of Americans watching on television, was already drawing fire from Democrats, who said a new direction was needed after a year of controversy involving Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, a domestic spying program and other issues.

“Empty promises will no longer cut it,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “We need a credible road map for our future, and we need the president to tell us how together, we can move forward towards the better America that we all envision.”

Washington sees Iran’s government as a major international irritant. Besides the nuclear issue, U.S. officials describe Iran as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, by providing support to organizations like Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad and attempting to influence Iraq.

U.S. officials believe many young Iranians desire an improved relationship with the United States and are frustrated in their efforts toward reform by hard-line defenders of clerical rule in Tehran.

“We believe they are great people and they want greater freedoms and the president has said multiple times that we stand behind them in their quest for freedom. He’s not saying, ‘rise up and overthrow,’ but that we stand behind them in their quest for greater freedom,” said an administration official.

In a CBS News interview, Bush said it was important to speak both to the Iranian government and the people.

“We would like you to be able to express yourselves in the open … without fear of reprisal. We want you to be able to vote and elect,” he said was his message to Iranians.

Foreign ministers were meeting on Monday in London, where U.S. and European diplomats were pushing tough diplomatic action against Iran over its nuclear program.

ENERGY AND HEALTH CARE

Bush, who was working from the 23rd draft of the speech on Monday, goes into the big event burdened by a stubbornly low job approval rating slightly over 40 percent, reflecting disapproval of his handling of the Iraq war and soaring gasoline prices.

On the domestic side of his speech, Bush will offer a prescription to help wean America off foreign oil by promoting alternative sources of fuel such as hydrogen and ethanol, themes he has raised in the past.

To show his concern about soaring gasoline prices, Bush will talk up the possibility offered by new technologies as a way to reduce the consumption of foreign oil.

He told CBS there should be more research to develop ways to make ethanol, which currently is processed from corn.

Health care will also be featured prominently in the address.

Bush is also expected to focus on a package of initiatives to rein in the soaring cost of U.S. health care by expanding the use of tax-preferred savings accounts and giving tax breaks to Americans without employer-provided health insurance so they can purchase health plans on their own. (Additional reporting by Patricia Wilson)

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