- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

ISTANBUL — President Bush closed the NATO summit yesterday with a renewed call for free nations to promote the spread of democracy in the greater Middle East.

“I believe that freedom is the future of the Middle East, because I believe that freedom is the future of all humanity,” Mr. Bush said. “And this historic achievement of democracy in the broader Middle East will be a victory shared by all.”

Mr. Bush largely has succeeded in getting the traditional allies of the United States to sign on to his Greater Middle East Initiative, including an official endorsement from NATO on Monday, and the European Union during his stopover in Ireland last week.

He pointed to Turkey, a Muslim nation with a secular government, as a model for Iraq and other nations.

“Turkey has found its place in the community of democracies by living out its own principles,” Mr. Bush said. “Muslims are called to seek justice — fairness to all, care for the stranger, compassion for those in need. And you have learned that democracy is the surest way to build a society of justice.”

Mr. Bush challenged Iran and Syria — two nations that the United States considers to be sponsors of worldwide terror — to reject that path and join the free world.

“We see the struggle in Iran, where tired, discredited autocrats are trying to hold back the democratic will of a rising generation,” Mr. Bush said. “The rise of Iraqi democracy is bringing hope to reformers across the Middle East, and sending a very different message to Tehran and Damascus.”

Many Arab countries have expressed skepticism toward Mr. Bush’s plan, which is considered by some to be heavy-handed meddling. The president tried to address those concerns by assuring his audience at Galatasaray University that this Western initiative in the Middle East will be different.

“Democracy, by definition, must be chosen and defended by the people themselves,” Mr. Bush said. “The future of freedom in the Islamic world will be determined by the citizens of Islamic nations, not by outsiders.”

The spread of liberty is the best way to extinguish the threat of terrorism, he said, which poses a threat to every nation, not just the United States.

“We have seen the malice grow deeper, and the violence spread, until both have appeared on the streets of our own cities,” he said.

Mr. Bush said that the idea that Muslim culture is incompatible with democracy was belied by the existence of Turkey, a stable democracy and a staunch U.S. ally in the region.

One can live in a democracy, and still live in a country that holds on to strict religious morality, Mr. Bush said.

“Some people in Muslim cultures identify democracy with the worst of Western popular culture, and want no part of it,” Mr. Bush said. “And I assure them, when I speak about the blessings of liberty, coarse videos and crass commercialism are not what I have in mind.”

NATO, the European Union and the United Nations have endorsed Mr. Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative in recent weeks. During his visit to Istanbul, sovereignty was handed to an interim Iraqi government pledged to forge a tolerant, democratic nation.

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