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Bush Proposes US-Mideast Free Trade Area - 2003-05-09

President Bush wants to increase economic trade with countries in the Middle East that renounce terrorism and support open markets. It is part of the president's push for a Middle East peace plan toward a separate Palestinian state.

President Bush says U.S.- Middle East free trade agreements would reward nations that embrace the rule of law, practice good governance, and fight terrorism while enacting reforms that open their markets to more trade.

Speaking at the University of South Carolina Friday, Mr. Bush said individual free trade zones negotiated over the next ten years would further "a great goal of the United States" to use its "influence and idealism" to replace what he calls "old hatreds with new hopes across the Middle East."

"In an age of global terror and weapons of mass destruction, what happens in the Middle East greatly matters to America," he said. "The bitterness of that region can bring violence and suffering to our own cities. The advance of freedom and peace in the Middle East would drain this bitterness and increase our own security."

Secretary of State Colin Powell is traveling to the region to push the administration's so-called "road map" for Middle East peace which calls for political power sharing toward the eventual creation of a separate Palestinian state by 2005.

The United States already has free trade agreements with Israel and Jordan and is working to finish a deal with Morocco. Mr. Bush says bringing more of the Middle East into what he calls an "expanding circle of opportunity" will increase security for Americans at home.

The president says hopes for that peace are renewed by the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the appointment of a new Palestinian prime minister along with the political support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

He again called on Israel to stop building settlements in occupied territories and take what he calls "tangible steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians and to show respect for their dignity."

Mr. Bush says Israel's neighbors must recognize the country's right to exist and stop supporting terrorism.

He says Palestinians must continue to renounce violence and work toward a Palestinian state that can live side-by-side with Israel in peace, prosperity, and security.

"If the Palestinian people take concrete steps to crack down on terror, continue on a path to peace, reform, and democracy, they and all the world will see the flag of Palestine raised over a free and independent nation," he said.

The president last month finally released this much-anticipated "road map" for Middle Peace which was drawn-up in cooperation with the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia.

He says Secretary Powell carries his "personal commitment" to work "without tiring" to bring about separate Israeli and Palestinian states.