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1/27/04 - MIDDLE EAST AND N-E-D - 2004-01-28

The Middle East, says President George W. Bush, is a place “where freedom is rare.” Mr. Bush says that some people even have “doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East”:

“Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.”

Moreover, says President Bush, a free Middle East is essential to peace and security:

“As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends.”

As part of this strategy, President Bush plans to ask the U.S. Congress to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy -- raising it to eighty-million dollars. This additional money, says Mr. Bush, will help the endowment to carry out “new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free press and free labor unions in the Middle East.”

One country that is beginning a democratic process is newly liberated Iraq. On January 21st in the predominantly Shiite city of Hillah, more than one-thousand people turned out for a democracy-building workshop. As one of the female participants, pediatrician Maha Hamid al-Saqban, said, “The road to democracy is long and hard, and we still have a long way to go.”

The U.S. and its coalition allies support the Iraqi people’s aspirations for an independent, prosperous, peaceful, and democratic country. The U.S., says President Bush, “has no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”