- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

President Bush’s push for democratization of the Middle East relies on government-initiated reforms by U.S. allies such as Egypt and grass-roots uprisings against U.S. enemies such as Iran.

The two-pronged strategy was outlined by senior administration officials in the wake of Wednesday’s State of the Union address, in which Mr. Bush called for sweeping democratization of repressive regimes throughout the Middle East.

“He spoke directly to the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with which we have very good relationships, because both have shown, at some level, a willingness, an openness to reform,” said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Whereas, with other regimes, like Iran, where we do not have these relationships, the president spoke directly to the people,” the official added.

Mr. Bush is heartened that students and other reformers are demanding democratic change from within Iran. He sees little hope in appealing directly to Iran’s ruling mullahs, who are developing nuclear technology and cracking down on dissidents.

“Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve,” Mr. Bush said in his address. “To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.”

By contrast, Mr. Bush chose not to speak directly to women and oppressed minorities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Instead, he appealed to their repressive governments, which are strong U.S. allies.

“The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future,” he said. “And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.”

Although the president’s words might have appeared mild, they were considered significant because they marked the first time he singled out Egypt and Saudi Arabia as nations that need democratic reform. For nearly three years at the beginning of his first term, Mr. Bush refused to speak ill of the two allies.

But in late 2003, the president gave a pair of seminal speeches, one in the United States and one in London, that leveled veiled criticisms against Saudi Arabia and Egypt without mentioning the countries by name. He said the United States had “been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability” in the Middle East.

“Long-standing ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites,” he said in London. “We cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own back yard.”

He added: “We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region.”

More than a year later, Mr. Bush has publicly uttered the names of those friends. It’s another step in the gradual process of taking a tougher stance on repressive U.S. allies.

“This was really just a call to two of the most important states in the region to begin to find their own way toward more open political systems,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush also noted that Iran and Syria “continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.”

“Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region,” he said. “We expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom.”

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