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Bush Criticizes Iranian Leadership, Hails Advance of Democracy in Iraq


President Bush, in his annual State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday, described Iran as a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. It is, he said, a regime "that must come to an end."

Mr. Bush said the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and said other nations must not permit Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.

In remarks to the people of Iran, the president said: "We respect you and we respect your country. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

Mr. Bush said the United States is on the offensive in Iraq, but said "our work there is difficult, because our enemy is brutal." However, he said the brutality of insurgents has not stopped what he called the dramatic progress of a new democracy.

He also heralded the advance of democratic reform across the broader Middle East, singling out last year's multi-party presidential elections in Egypt.

The president called on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which swept to power in elections last week, to disarm and to recognize Israel. He urged the Islamist group to reject terrorism and to work for a lasting peace.

Mr. Bush says America must remain engaged around the world, and reject what he called "the false comforts of isolationism".

Says US is Addicted to Oil

President Bush says America has a "serious problem" of being addicted to oil, often imported from unstable parts of the world.

He said the best way to break this dependence is through technology to produce cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy sources.

He said the country is on the brink of "incredible advances," and announced an initiative to push for breakthroughs.

He said the country will invest more in coal, solar, wind, and nuclear technology to power homes and offices.

And he said it will step up research to find better ways of powering automobiles. He said goals include pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen, and new ways of producing ethanol.

He announced a goal of replacing 75 percent of the country's oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

The president said the United States is committed to the long-term goal of ending tyranny in the world. He said in a time of testing by terrorists, the U. S. cannot find security by abandoning its commitments and retreating within its borders.

In the opening remarks of his speech, Mr. Bush paid tribute to Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Mrs. King died early Tuesday.

The speech comes at the start of an election year in the United States, as Mr. Bush's Republican Party battles to keep control of Congress. A newly published (NBC News/Wall Street Journal) opinion poll shows the president's approval rating is now at only 39 percent.

Mr. Bush said the U.S. cannot find security by retreating within its borders, and rejects what he called the false comfort of isolationism.

He said America would signal that it no longer believes in its own ideals if it allows radical Islam to work its will.

Support for Democratic Reform in Middle East

Mr. Bush said the United States supports democratic reform in the Middle East.

He said elections are vital, but that they are only a beginning. He said raising a democracy requires rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions.

He said the Egyptian government should, in his words, "open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism."

He said Hamas, the winner of last week's Palestinian elections, must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.

He said Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform, and should press forward with those efforts.

And he said the world must not allow Iran's regime to gain nuclear weapons. He described Iran as a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite, and said America respects the Iranian people's right to choose their own future.

He said the U.S. remains on the offensive against terror networks. He said U.S. forces have killed or captured many terrorist leaders, adding that "for the others, their day will come."

He said the U.S. remains on the offensive in Afghanistan, where he said a president and national assembly are building a new democracy.

And he said the U.S. is on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory that includes reconstruction efforts and the building of an inclusive government. He said Iraqi forces are increasingly capable of defeating insurgents.

He said he is confident in the plan for victory.

Bush Again Defends Eavesdropping Program

President Bush again defended the controversial warrantless eavesdropping program by the National Security Agency, saying it has helped prevent terrorist attacks.

The president said the program is legal under his authority granted by the constitution and by statute. He said members of Congress have been kept informed about it.

The president also asked Congress to re-authorize the Patriot Act, saying law enforcement officials deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime.

In developing nations, the president said the United States is working to encourage economic progress and fight disease. He cited action to fight AIDS and malaria, improve the education of girls, fight human trafficking and reward developing nations that are moving forward with political and economic reforms.

The Democratic party response to the president's speech will be delivered by Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine.

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