- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

President Bush yesterday called for the disarming of Hamas and Iran, both of which advocate the destruction of Israel, in a foreshadowing of tonight’s State of the Union address.

“We will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas,” Mr. Bush said, in reference to the militant group, after a Cabinet meeting in the White House. “We want to work with a government that is a partner in peace, not a government whose declared intentions might be the destruction of Israel.

“Secondly, this new democracy that’s emerging in the Palestinian territories must understand that you can’t have a political party that also has got an armed wing to it,” he added. “And so, the second half of our message to Hamas is: Get rid of your arms, disavow terrorism.”

Mr. Bush also had a message for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has alarmed the West by pushing ahead with plans to enrich uranium.

“The message is: Give up your nuclear weapons ambitions,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Cabinet Room. “Iran … cannot be trusted with technology that could enable it to develop a nuclear weapon.”

U.S. military intervention in Iran is considered unlikely, and Mr. Bush is hoping pro-democracy students and intellectuals will change the country from within.

“We want the people of Iran to be able to live in a free society,” he said yesterday. “And so, tomorrow night, I am going to talk about this issue and make clear the policy of the United States.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush will devote a significant portion of tonight’s speech to foreign policy.

As for domestic initiatives, Mr. McClellan acknowledged that many members of Congress will be more interested in winning re-election in November than in spending the year enacting Mr. Bush’s agenda.

Republican pollster Matthew Dowd, in an effort to further lower expectations, cautioned members of the Republican National Committee yesterday that tonight’s speech will not necessarily boost Mr. Bush’s approval ratings.

“In looking at poll movement before and after State of the Union addresses, the average over the last fifty years is actually a slight drop (-0.2%),” he wrote in a memo. “President Bush’s average change is also a drop (-0.4%).”

Mr. Dowd added: “Even the ‘Great Communicator’ President Ronald Reagan’s average poll movement after State of the Union addresses was negative (-2.6%), and in fact Reagan only had one SOTU speech with positive poll movement!”

Democrats tried to lower expectations for tonight’s speech even more.

“The American people won’t hear about the real state of the union,” said Karen Finney, communications director for the Democratic National Committee. “Instead, they will hear a speech chock-full of empty rhetoric, hollow promises and the usual distort, distract and divide, straight from Karl Rove’s playbook,” she said, in reference to the presidential adviser.

After yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr. Bush practiced his speech, which was in its 23rd draft.

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