Bloomberg: President George W. Bush said nations should unite to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to oppose Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants who threaten the stability of Lebanon.
By Janine Zacharia and Hans Nichols
May 18 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush said nations should unite to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to oppose Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants who threaten the stability of Lebanon.
"Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions," Bush said today in a speech to a World Economic Forum conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. "To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
United Nations sanctions on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions haven't stopped it from proceeding with the program. With only eight months left in office, the Bush administration is working with allies at the UN Security Council on a revised package of incentives to try to persuade Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities.
Bush's speech capped a five-day trip to the Middle East that included stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia. His speech addressed the need to spread democracy in the Middle East — a cornerstone of his administration's policy for the region since 2001 — and the prospect of an agreement outlining what a Palestinian state will look like by the time he leaves office.
Bush May Return
Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, left open the possibility that Bush may return to the Middle East for a third time this year to work toward that goal. "I think the president will come back here when there is work for him to do to advance the process," Hadley told reporters accompanying Bush. The president is "committed to do what needs to be done to try and get a success here."
Bush had been scheduled to meet with embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora today. Siniora instead is meeting with Hezbollah representatives in Qatar to try to reach a political compromise with the group, whose show of strength two weeks ago in Beirut threatened to break Siniora's government.
That dialogue "can lead to an end to political stalemate, but only if it does not reward Hezbollah, and if it supports the elected government that was put in office by the people of Lebanon," Hadley said.
Bush didn't announce any fresh initiatives to shore up Siniora. Instead, he urged leaders to "stand with the people of Lebanon in their struggle to build a sovereign and independent democracy."
"This means opposing Hezbollah terrorists, funded by Iran, who recently revealed their true intentions by taking up arms against the Lebanese people," Bush said. "It is now clearer than ever that Hezbollah militias are the enemy of a free Lebanon, and all nations, especially neighbors in the region, have an interest in helping the Lebanese people prevail."
Bush urged all Middle Eastern countries to release "their prisoners of conscience, open up their political debate, and trust their people to chart their future," a point both he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have made repeatedly.
"Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail," Bush said. "America is deeply concerned about the plight of political prisoners in this region, as well as democratic activists who are intimidated or repressed."
Democracy and Islam
"Democracy does not threaten Islam or any other religion. Democracy is the only system of government that guarantees their protection," Bush said.
The speech included a list of demands for the Arab world including the pursuit of economic reform and empowerment of women and drew only pockets of stilted applause.
On Palestinian statehood, Bush repeated that a definition of what that state would look like can be agreed on before he leaves office next January. Bush left his meetings with Israelis and Palestinians this past week convinced they are making progress toward that goal, Hadley said. He noted what he said were "six months of progress" in terms of the Palestinians taking control of security in the West Bank.
"At Annapolis, we made a hopeful beginning toward a peace agreement that will outline what this nation of Palestine will look like, a contiguous state where Palestinians live in prosperity and dignity," Bush said, referring to a U.S.-hosted peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland last year.
"I firmly believe that with leadership and courage, we can reach that peace agreement this year," the U.S. president said. Palestinians need to fight terror, Israel needs to make "tough sacrifices for peace" and ease restrictions on the Palestinians. Arab states, especially oil-rich nations, should "move past their old resentments against Israel," Bush said.
If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reach an agreement by the end of Bush's presidency, it should be possible to implement the peace treaty and establish a Palestinian state before the end of 2013, according to Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator.
"The agreement will be implemented according to a negotiated time-line and under international supervision," Erekat said today in an interview in Sharm el-Sheikh.
"It will take more than a year and less than five years," he said. Abbas told Bush yesterday that in his speech to Israel's Knesset last week, "he missed an opportunity to tell the people of Israel that the freedom of one people is linked to the freedom of another people," Erekat said.
Don't Repeat 2000
"Why would he forget this at the Knesset, that an entire people is suffering under occupation and are in a state of emergency?" Erekat said.
Sketching a vision of the Middle East in 60 years time, Bush predicted again that Palestinians "will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved."
Jordan's King Abdullah, preceding Bush at the podium, said, "It is vital that the year 2008 does not end as the year 2000 did: with progress cut off, the sphere of agreement collapsing and years of expanding violence to come."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini in Tehran didn't return a call from Bloomberg News seeking comment on Bush's remarks.
Bush departed for Washington after delivering the speech.