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US Sends Envoy to Middle East to Calm Criticism of Bush Reform Initiative - 2004-03-02

A U.S. diplomat sent to the Middle East to respond to widespread criticism that the United States is imposing reforms on the region says Washington has no such aims.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman said reform cannot and will not be imposed from the outside. He said he expects the best ideas for change to come from within the Middle East.

Giving rise to the criticism is President Bush's so-called Greater Middle East Initiative aimed at promoting democracy and economic reforms in the Arab world.

Mr. Grossman spoke after meeting in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to discuss U.S.- and Arab-driven plans to reform Middle East policies.

Mr. Maher said Arab countries will not allow anyone to dictate to them how they should reform. He said Arab states will undertake reforms that respond to their needs, culture, religion and heritage. He said he welcomes input from countries that wish to cooperate.

On Monday, Egypt issued a proposal calling for reform and modernization in the Arab world while respecting the individuality of each country. The plan is circulating among Arab foreign ministers who are meeting in Cairo to update the founding charter of the Arab League and discuss political reforms in the Middle East.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Monday that reforms in education, democracy and the economy have been underway for some time. He said Arab countries decide when and how to take steps toward reforms, and warns that any attempt to push rapid change will only result in chaos.

The Egyptian president plans to embark on a European tour on Wednesday, to discuss his country's plan for reform with heads of state from Italy, France and Britain. The U.S. envoy is scheduled to meet later this week with leaders from Jordan, Bahrain and Turkey.