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Bush Praises Gaza Withdrawal, Iraqi Constitution Process

President Bush is praising developments in the Middle East - Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the negotiations on Iraq's constitution. As new polls indicate further decline in public support for his policies in Iraq, Mr. Bush says U.S. efforts there will require more time and sacrifice.

President Bush says the removal of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank was a courageous and painful step for the Israeli people. He says, now that the settlers have left, the way forward is clear.

"The Palestinians must show the world that they will fight terrorism and govern in a peaceful way," the president said. "We will continue to help the Palestinians to prepare for self-government and to defeat the terrorists who attack Israel and oppose the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state."

In his weekly radio address, the president called the withdrawal a hopeful event in the Holy Land.

On Iraq, Mr. Bush said Iraqis face tough compromises over their constitution, as negotiators grapple with difficult issues, including the role of their federal government. Iraqi lawmakers have missed several deadlines for completing a draft constitution. But the president says peaceful negotiations on the charter are a step forward for Iraq.

"What is important is that Iraqis are now addressing these issues through debate and discussion, not at the barrel of a gun," said President Bush. "The establishment of a democratic constitution in Iraq, just like the establishment of a constitution in Afghanistan last year, will be a landmark event in the history of the broader Middle East. And it will bring us closer to the day when the nation of Iraq can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."

Mr. Bush says as Iraqi security forces are trained and the government becomes able to sustain and defend itself, U.S. troops will be able to return home. The president has refused to set a date for withdrawal, saying pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq too early would weaken the United States.

A poll released this week by the Gallup Organization shows Mr. Bush's approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. In recent days, Mr. Bush has tried to rally support, speaking before National Guard troops and praising Americans serving in Iraq.

Mr. Bush says American troops will come home with honor, once Iraqi forces can defend their country, but that time has not yet arrived.

"Our efforts in Iraq and the broader Middle East will require more time, more sacrifice and continued resolve," he said. "Yet, people across the Middle East are choosing a future of freedom and prosperity and hope."

President Bush says helping to establish free and democratic nations in the Middle East will bring hope to millions and security to Americans.