AFP: US President George W. Bush said Saturday that his trip to the Middle East next week aimed to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and curtail Iran’s “aggressive ambitions”. WASHINGTON (AFP) US President George W. Bush said Saturday that his trip to the Middle East next week aimed to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and curtail Iran’s “aggressive ambitions”.
“This is a region of great strategic importance to the United States, and I’m looking forward to my visit,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.
The US president leaves Jan. 8 for his first trip in office to Israel and his first-ever trip to the West Bank. He will also visit Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt before returning to Washington on Jan. 16.
Bush said he planned to push Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to make progress on peace talks restarted at a US-hosted conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
“This is difficult work. It will require tough decisions on complex questions. But I am optimistic about the prospects. And I will make clear that America is deeply committed to helping both parties,” Bush said.
He did not restate his confidence about creating an independent Palestinian state living at peace with Israel by the time he leaves office in January 2009 the goal laid out at Annapolis.
Bush said he would urge leaders at his other destinations to help move the process forward and declared he would “discuss the importance of countering the aggressive ambitions of Iran”.
Bush was expected to work to convince US allies that Iran is a serious threat after a US intelligence finding, made public in December, said that Tehran had halted a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003.
“And I will assure them that America’s commitment to the security of our friends in the region is strong and enduring,” said the US president. “America will stay engaged in the region.”
Bush said the Middle East faced a “decisive moment” in the struggle between democratic reformers and extremists a frequent refrain in his speeches since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“We will support democrats and reformers from Beirut and Baghdad to Damascus and Tehran. We will stand with all those working to build a future of liberty and justice and peace. Prevailing in this struggle will not be easy, but we know from history that it can be done,” he said.