Bush: ME nations must reject spoliers such as Iran, Syria

US President to attend World Economic Forum in Egypt on Sunday; urges Arabs to 'move past old grievances.'

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel got glowing praise from US President George W. Bush. The Arab world is getting renewed promises, but also a bit of a lecture. Bush is presenting Middle Eastern leaders with a long to-do list on Sunday: bring about freer economic markets, enact political reforms that move toward democratic governments, allow greater participation in society for women and young people, and "reject spoilers such as the regimes in Iran and Syria." "I will make clear that the only way to ensure true prosperity is to expand political and economic freedom," Bush said, previewing a Sunday speech to the World Economic Forum in the Middle East, a meeting of hundreds of global policymakers and business leaders being held at this Red Sea beach town. Bush said that in the speech, which will cap his five-day Mideast trip, he will urge the region's leaders to "embrace the changes necessary for a day when societies across the Middle East are based on justice, tolerance, and freedom." His message is aimed at countries in the region where the political and civil systems are far from free, including Egypt, the host of the gathering. But the president's point that Arab leaders also must "move past old grievances" could be read as a push to get on with making peace with Israel and supporting US-backed efforts to forge a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel itself got no such public criticism when Bush spent two days there earlier this week to participate in its 60th anniversary celebrations. The contrast was likely to reinforce the notion among Arabs that Bush leans too far Israel's way in the long-running dispute, and that Washington does not push Israel hard enough to give way on issues that anger Palestinians - like settlement activity or movement limitations - and stymie a deal. Bush tried to counter that impression on Saturday when he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and talked emotionally about the Palestinians' plight. At Abbas' side, he said he is "absolutely committed" to getting an Israeli-Palestinian accord by the end of the year. "It'll be an opportunity to end the suffering that takes place in the Palestinian territories," he said. "It breaks my heart to see the vast potential of the Palestinian people, really, wasted," Bush said. Bush's message of change - delivered in person, on foreign soil - is a follow-up to his promise in his second inaugural address to work in every nation for "ending tyranny in our world." He was reinforcing this in several one-on-one meetings ahead of the speech: with leaders from Pakistan, Jordan, the Palestinian authority and Iraq. On Saturday, aside from Abbas, he also met with the presidents of Egypt and Afghanistan. With the Iraqis, the White House said Bush wanted to focus on Baghdad's plan to commit billions of its own money for major infrastructure projects, a United Nations conference on Iraq being held in Sweden later this month, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's crackdowns in the past two months in against Shiite militiamen in Basra and Sadr City, followed by moves against Sunni al-Qaida in Mosul. Bush was sitting down with Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi and deputy prime minister Barham Salih. Iraqi spending on its own reconstruction is becoming a headache for the administration in Congress. According to independent investigators, Iraq's oil revenues will top $70 billion this year - twice what was initially expected. Iraq is expanding its budget to assume more responsibility for big projects, but the US continues to provide substantial financial aid to smaller, local projects, as well as rebuilding efforts aimed at improving security. Democrats and even some Republicans say Americans shouldn't continue to foot so much of the bill. His emphasis on Iran reflects Bush's desire to counter Tehran's quest for greater influence in the region. New urgency was added to that task by recent turmoil in Lebanon that the US and many Sunni Arab countries believe has been fomented by Shiite-dominated Iran, as well as Syria.