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International Journalists Discuss Reaction to President Bush’s State-of-the-Union Address

Much of President’s Bush’s State of the Union Address last week focused on America’s continuing goal to spread freedom and democracy around the world, but he said the United States has no intention of imposing its form of government on anyone else. President Bush did not mention relations with the nations of Europe, East Asia, or Africa, but focused instead on the Middle East.

On VOA’s “International Press Club,” host Judith Latham spoke with journalists in Germany, Iran, Lebanon, and Egypt about their reaction to President Bush’s address. Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said reaction in Europe, especially in Germany, was positive because Europeans are greatly concerned about the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel and about finding a diplomatic solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

In contrast, London-based Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Norizadeh said official reaction in Iran to the President’s speech was quite negative. According to Mr. Norizadeh, Teheran considers the State of the Union address intervention in Iranian affairs and rejects the U.S. accusation concerning the Islamic Republic’s support for terrorism. However, Ali-Reza Norizadeh said the Iranian people were delighted that President Bush brought up the subject of human rights and the need for democratic reform in his address.

In the Arab world, said the editor of Beirut’s Daily Star Rami Khouri, the reaction was largely critical because people don’t think that President Bush is “mandated to reform and change and reorder things in this region or any other part of the world.” Mr. Khouri said that the United States applies a “double standard” toward its friends like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and its enemies like Iran and Syria. But, he also said that a small minority of Middle Easterners believe that external pressure from the United States is needed to “address the problems related to antiquated authoritarian and autocratic political systems.” Rami Khouri added that most people in the region were struck by - as he was - the sense that America is becoming more “even-handed” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is now willing to commit greater resources to promoting Palestinian development.

Khalid Abdelkarim, correspondent for the Middle East News Agency of Egypt, said that Cairo made little response to President Bush’s mild criticism in his speech concerning the lack of democracy in Egypt. But, he added, the Egyptian press and public are generally “quite skeptical” of America’s way of approaching intervention in Egyptian affairs when it comes to political and democratic reform.

Nonetheless, even though many Arab reformers are opposed to U.S. policy in the region, Middle East analysts observe that President Bush’s advocacy of democracy does have some resonance in the Arab world. They say his public statements and the interest Washington has shown on the issue have played a significant role in opening up the political space enabling people in the region who have long advocated reform to step forward with their own proposals.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.