Bush and Britain’s Blair Consider Course Ahead in Middle East

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair December 7 renewed their commitment to moderates and reformers who work for democracy across the broader Middle East.    

At a joint press conference, Bush said that he and Blair "know the only way to secure peace for ourselves is to help millions of moms and dads across the Middle East build what our citizens already have - societies based on liberty that will allow their children to grow up in peace and opportunity.”

Across the region, Bush and Blair said, the forces of extremism are working against the Maliki government in Iraq by fomenting sectarian violence; fighting government forces to retake Afghanistan; attempting to unseat Lebanon's government; and working to derail efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas toward a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The radical militants working to undermine these new democracies in the region share a belief that, “the rise of free and democratic societies in the Middle East, where people can practice their faith, choose their leaders and live together in peace, would be a decisive blow to their cause,” Bush said.  

“Should they succeed,” Bush said, “history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know, what happened?  How come free nations did not act to preserve the peace?”

The two leaders met the day after the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of former government officials, issued a report offering 79 recommendations to revise U.S. policy in Iraq and the wider region.  (See related article.)    

Bush and Blair said that a change in course was needed in Iraq and welcomed the report as one of several ongoing policy reviews to help renew efforts to help Iraq build a unified democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself.  Bush said that he expected to address the American people in a few weeks on these issues.

"I believe we need a new approach,” Bush said.  Blair agreed, adding that the Iraq Study Group’s report offers “a strong way forward.”  (See related article.)    

While not commenting extensively on the report, Bush discussed one of its most closely watched recommendations - that of engaging Iran and Syria diplomatically to help stabilize Iraq, and to use their influence with extremists in other conflicts across the region.  Bush said that both countries are well aware of the expectations of the international community.

“If people come to the table to discuss Iraq they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country,” he said.  “[I]f Syria and Iran [are] not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”

A transcript of the remarks by Bush and Blair is available on the White House Web site.

For more information, see Middle East and North Africa.