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In UAE speech, Bush assails Iran

The Baltimore Sun

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- President Bush called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" and sought yesterday to shore up opposition to the government in Tehran throughout the Middle East.

But even as he criticized Iranian leaders, saying they were seeking to repress their own citizens and to cow neighboring countries, Bush appealed to U.S. allies in the region to open up their own political and economic systems to greater democracy.

Iran, meanwhile, promised the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog agency yesterday that it will answer all remaining questions about its past nuclear activities within four weeks, including secret activities the United States suspects were linked to a weapons program.

The time limit was announced by a spokeswoman for Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the end of his talks in Tehran with Iranian leaders.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman traveling with the president, said that Iran's agreement to answer questions about its past nuclear activities "is a step, but they still need to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity."

Bush, spotlighting a swath of the globe where U.S. diplomacy is built around seeking help for the administration's anti-terrorism effort, criticized only Iran by name. He avoided mentioning Egypt, his final stop on a six-nation Middle East trip, despite its long record of human rights abuses, limited political rights and economic disparity. Nor did he cite other nations across the region with similarly troubled histories.

Speaking just 150 miles across the Persian Gulf from Iran, Bush said the Islamic Republic "sends hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world, while its own people face repression and economic hardship at home." He said Iran was seeking "to intimidate its neighbors with ballistic missiles and bellicose rhetoric."

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini dismissed Bush's approach to Iran as ineffective.

"During the past seven years, the Bush administration has followed a policy to isolate Iran and promote Iranophobia in the region," Hosseini said, according the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "All regional states adopted a vigilant approach regarding that policy and opposed it."

Bush spoke in Abu Dhabi to an audience of government officials, business executives, academics and students assembled by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, a think tank. Delivering an otherwise gingerly worded address intended to revive a quiescent campaign for broader democracy across the Middle East, he called for reforms that would transform life from Morocco to Pakistan.

Using the language of a middle-school civics lesson, Bush proclaimed a "new era," which he said was "founded on the equality of all people before God."

It is built, he said, "with the understanding that power is a trust that must be exercised with the consent of the governed - and deliver equal justice under the law.

"For decades, the people of this region saw their desire for liberty and justice denied at home and dismissed abroad in the name of stability," Bush said. "Today your aspirations are threatened by violent extremists who murder the innocent in pursuit of power."

The president spoke in an opulent auditorium of the $3 billion Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, one of the two major metropolitan areas in the United Arab Emirates. He planned to visit the other, Dubai, today on his way to Saudi Arabia.

There was no applause during the speech; at the end, the audience applauded with restraint, and stood as he left the stage.

Bush has had two principal themes on the eight-day trip: encouraging support around the region for fledgling Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and pressing leaders at each stop to stand with the United States in its efforts to change Iranian behavior.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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