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Bush Looks Ahead in Last State of the Union Speech

President Bush has delivered his final State of the Union Address to Congress and the American people. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports he urged the American public to support his Iraq policies and called on lawmakers to take action to boost the U.S. economy.

For the seventh and final time, George W. Bush walked to the podium of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver the annual State of the Union Address.

Members of Congress lined the aisles to welcome him, as television cameras captured images sent around the globe. For one evening, the attention focused on this year's presidential election was put on pause, as Mr. Bush stood in the spotlight.

He did not reflect on the past. But he did talk at length about the issues that will shape his legacy - starting with the war in Iraq and his decision to send in an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

"Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt," he said. "Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated."

About half the speech dealt with foreign policy, with a heavy focus on the Middle East. President Bush talked about his hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. And he issued a challenge to the government of Iran.

"Come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, and cease your support for terror abroad," he said. "But above all, know this: American will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf."

Mr. Bush also spoke of his determination to protect the American economy. He acknowledged many Americans worry the slowdown in economic growth could evolve into a full-blown recession, and he sought to calm their fears.

"In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth," he said. "But in the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing."

The president called on Congress to pass the economic stimulus package the administration worked out with Democratic and Republican leaders in the House. And he urged lawmakers to re-authorize a program that enables the government to secretly monitor communications between Americans and terror suspects abroad without a prior court warrant.

On these and other matters, Mr. Bush said everyone should put politics aside - a tough call in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign.

"In this election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them," he said. "And let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and compete for results at the same time."

Two of the Democrats running for their party's presidential nomination - Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - were in the chamber for the president's speech.

The official Democratic response to the address was delivered by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

"Tonight's address begins the final year of this presidency, with new leaders on the horizon and uncertainty throughout our land," she said. "Conditions we face, at home and abroad, are results of choices made and challenges unmet."

Sebelius said these challenges can be conquered if Americans of all political persuasions come together. She said the American people are not afraid to face difficult choices, but have no more patience for divisive politics.

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