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5/16/03 - BUSH ON THE MIDDLE EAST - 2003-05-20

In Iraq, the Saddam Hussein regime that aided terrorists is no longer in power. The fall of the dictator has created an unprecedented opportunity for Arab countries to look to a new and brighter, more prosperous future.

A United Nations report authored by leading Arab intellectuals underscored the need for economic and political reform and modernization across the region. Despite a rich cultural heritage, the combined gross domestic product of all Arab countries is smaller than that of Spain. People in Arab countries have less access to the Internet than people living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic and social progress depend on developing law-based systems that protect individual rights, discourage corruption, encourage the free market, and give Arabs a greater voice in their government. As President George W. Bush made clear, the United States will work in partnership with Arabs, and with governments in the region, to foster this sort of positive change.

Progress also depends on overcoming old hatreds. For generations, the region has been torn by the conflict between Arabs and Israelis. But as President Bush put it, “The way forward in the Middle East is not a mystery, it is a matter of will and vision and action”:

“If the Palestinian people take concrete steps to crack down on terror, continue on a path of peace, reform, and democracy, they and all the world will see the flag of Palestine raised over a free and independent nation.”

Mr. Bush said that, “All sides of this conflict have duties”:

“Israel must take tangible steps now to ease the suffering of Palestinians and show respect for their dignity. And as progress is made toward peace, Israel must stop settlement activity in the occupied territories. Arab nations must fight terror in all forms, and recognize and state the obvious once and for all: Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors.”

The U.S. is working toward a Middle East that, as President Bush said, “grows in hope, instead of resentment.”