laura bush 224 88.
(photo credit: AP)
US First Lady Laura Bush is scheduled to travel to the Middle East next week, visiting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to promote breast cancer awareness.
While women's health will be the focus of her trip - which will include stops at a cancer screening center in Saudi Arabia and the King Hussein Cancer Center in Jordan - the trip comes at a time when the United States is seeking to improve its image in the Arab world and build support for its policies in the region.
The trip precedes an international conference near Washington to forward Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, at which the Bush administration hopes to see support from Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia.
High-ranking US officials have also made several recent trips to the region to try to enlist greater support for US actions in Iraq and its efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Bush will be meeting with Saudi King Abdallah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II on her trip.
At the same time, Bush has recently taken on a higher profile in stumping for international causes as her husband's popularity flags and the couple's time in the White House draws toward its end.
Most significantly, the first lady has recently positioned herself at the forefront of US opposition to the regime in Burma, conducting meetings with the UN leadership, advocating for more sanctions and writing op-eds on the subject.
Consistently rated as one of the most popular figures in a controversial and at times pilloried administration, Bush has the advantage of presenting a softer, less divisive face to the public, which can help unify support for the causes she champions.
"Laura Bush is one of the few people in the administration who has maintained her popularity and credibility both at home and abroad," Nancy Soderberg, a diplomat under former US President Bill Clinton now with the University of North Florida, told The Washington Post in a piece on Bush's Burma activism. "So when she says something is an issue, it has an impact. There's no question when a first lady takes on an issue, it's at the top of everybody's inbox."
Bush has traveled abroad many times with her husband, and is increasingly venturing out alone. Her past visits have not always proved successful, as she alienated Egyptian democracy advocates by praising President Hosni Mubarak's strides toward democracy on one occasion, only to watch him crack down on dissidents soon after she made her comments.
In general, the former librarian has stayed away from most political hot potatoes, focusing instead on health issues such as AIDS and cancer or education and literacy efforts. But with her activity on Burma, she has expanded the scope of her political role.
She discussed her new priorities during an interview last month.
"As I've lived here long, I realize - I became more aware that I have more of a chance to speak out about these sorts of issues that especially concern me. And I want to take advantage of that."