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Bush Discusses Middle East Policy in State of the Union Speech

This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before those leaders hold talks next week. Her trip is part of the Middle East peace efforts that President Bush discussed this week in his State of the Union speech.

Miz Rice is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on Sunday. She visits Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Monday.

Then, on Tuesday, Mister Abbas and Mister Sharon are to meet in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. It will be the first time Israeli and Palestinian leaders have met in more than four years. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is holding the talks. King Abdullah of Jordan also is expected to take part.

President Bush announced that he will ask Congress for three hundred fifty million dollars for the Palestinians. He said the money would go for political, security and other reforms. In his words: "The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach – and America will help them achieve that goal."

In his speech Wednesday night in Congress, Mister Bush also called for greater freedoms in other parts of the Middle East. He said reform is already taking hold from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain.

He called on Saudi Arabia to give its people more power to decide their future. And he spoke of Egypt, another American ally, which he called “a great and proud nation.” He said, "Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

In much stronger language, Mister Bush said that Syria still permits its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by terrorists. And he said Iran remains the world's main state supporter of terrorism. He said Iran is seeking nuclear weapons while denying its people freedom. The president had a message for Iranians. "As you stand for your own liberty," he said, "American stands with you."

In London Friday, reporters asked Secretary Rice if the United States might ever attack Iran. In her words: "The question is simply not on the agenda at this point." She said diplomatic steps remain. Miz Rice is on her first trip as top American diplomat. London was the first stop among European capitals.

In his State of the Union speech, the president praised the Iraqi people for voting in elections. He said terrorists are trying to destroy the hope that Iraqis expressed. Millions of people voted Sunday for a new Transitional National Assembly.

Leaders of the opposition Democrats in Congress criticized Mister Bush for not saying when American troops will leave Iraq.

The president introduced an Iraqi human rights activist whose father was killed by the Saddam Hussein government. Safia Taleb al-Souhail shared an emotional hug with another guest, Janet Norwood, the mother of a United States Marine killed in battle in Iraq.

In the News in VOA Special English was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Steve Ember.