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Bush: US must wean itself off Mideast oil

Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress while Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) look on at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 31,

By Olivier Knox

Embattled President George W. Bush said the United States must win in Iraq and aggressively promote democracy in the Middle East while beating an "addiction" to the region's oil.

With November legislative elections on the horizon, Bush used his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday to try to win back public support, battered by the Iraq war and soaring gasoline prices.

He also defiantly declared that the United States was the indispensable actor on the global stage, warning that "the only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world."

Bush made an unusual direct overture to the Iranian people, dismissed criticisms of his democracy promotion goals after Hamas won Palestinian elections, and rejected any hasty retreat from Iraq.

On issue after issue -- from free trade to Iraq to the US war on terrorism -- Bush couched opposition to his leadership as a dangerous retreat that risked making the United States less safe and less prosperous.

"In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders," he said. "The road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline."

One of his central proposals hinged on what he described as "a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," like the Middle East.

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," Bush said, calling for research into ethanol, coal-fired plants, solar and wind technologies and nuclear energy so that 75 percent of oil imports from the Middle East can be replaced by 2025.

The goal is spectacular but The Washington Post said Wednesday the "deadline is far off, and it's not clear what he intends in practice."

Yet even some of Bush's critics were pleasantly surprised that a former Texas oilman would be willing to push for alternative energy sources.

On Iraq, Bush said "the road of victory is the road that will take our troops home," and he added that he hoped "progress on the ground" in training Iraqi security forces would enable him to bring US soldiers home.

But he said an early withdrawal of US troops would "abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison."

Deep in a nuclear dispute with Iran, Bush balanced a promise that Tehran will not get atomic weapons with a message aimed directly at the Iranian people, saying "our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

The president also rejected criticisms that the victory of the radical group Hamas in Palestinian elections called into question his push to spread democracy worldwide as the antidote to terrorism.

"Our nation is committed to a historic, long-term goal: We seek the end of tyranny in our world. ... The future security of America depends on it," he said, echoing the theme of his inauguration speech one year ago.

"Now, the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace," he said, without renewing his warning that US aid hinged on meeting those demands.

Hamas on Wednesday accused Bush of showing blatant bias towards Israel.
"This is the same old American position, which illustrates the extent of its bias towards Israel and the blackmail that is being exercised towards the Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri told AFP.

"It is a position prejudiced against the Palestinian people. America and the international community should adopt a more balanced position towards the Palestinian cause and not punish the Palestinian people because of their democratic choice."

Bush also called on staunch allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia to embrace deeper democratic reforms and predicted: "Liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity."

In his only reference to North Korea, Bush listed that country with Syria, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Iran as places where democracy had yet to take root and said of their people: "The demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom."

Bush's speech revealed a weakened president shying away from the aggressive stances he adopted in years past, commentators and newspapers said.

"He sounded more subdued than triumphant, more realistic than grandiose," The Washington Post wrote in an editorial.

But fortified by the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Bush also appealed to his conservative base, including a call for a ban on human cloning and markets in human embryos.

AFP 02 01 06

Copyright © 2006 AFP. All rights reserved


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