Bush to revive democracy agenda at Sharansky event

US President George W. Bush plans to use his appearance at an event co-hosted by former Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky Monday to renew his commitment to his freedom agenda, the White House said Friday. Bush will give the keynote address at a gathering in Prague of pro-democracy advocates and dissidents from the Palestinian Authority and countries such as Iran, China, Syria and Cuba. Sharansky, whose ideas about democratization have inspired Bush, reportedly invited the president earlier in the year, and the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, which Sharansky chairs, is a sponsor of the event. Bush has come under fire for his program to promote freedom as an antidote to terrorism, with critics variously calling it na ve, ineffective and hypocritical. It has also been fingered as a source of alienation for key Arab allies in the war on Terror who are themselves not open democracies. Recently, there has been a perception that his administration has backed away from the initiative as the attempt to foster democracy in Iraq has collapsed. Observers point to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's silence on democratization in her recent speeches in undemocratic Middle Eastern countries and Bush's willingness to host dictators operating less than transparent governments. But National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said Friday that Bush remained committed to the freedom agenda and wanted to use the Prague event to renew his call for others to join him. "He thought it was an opportunity to, again, talk about the importance of freedom and democracy and why the president believes it is in the long-term interests... of leaders who not only care about their people, but is also the basis for a long-term stability," Hadley said. "It's also an opportunity for him to say, freedom is not easy; the history of freedom and democracy over the last two centuries is not a curve that always goes up; that the forces of darkness have a way of fighting back and striking back, and there are setbacks on the road to freedom," he added. As such, Hadley stressed that the effort was a "generational" one, and that it would be up to individuals and countries to join in this "difficult struggle that's going to take time."