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President Bush Uses Visit to Turkey to Urge Greater Democracy in Middle East - 2004-06-29

President Bush says freedom is the future of the Middle East. Mr. Bush made the case for democratic reform during a speech to university students in Istanbul.

One day after the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraqi government, President Bush urged other nations in the Middle East to embrace democracy. He said the alternatives are clear.

"One alternative is a political doctrine of tyranny, suicide, and murder that goes against the standards of justice found in Islam and every other great religion," he said. "The other alternative is a society of justice, where men and women live peacefully and build better lives for themselves and their children."

The president said once again that there is no one mold for democracy. But he said other nations can look to Turkey as an example of a predominantly Muslim country with a democratic government that practices religious tolerance.

"Turkey has found what nations of every culture and every region have found: if justice is the goal, then democracy is the answer," he said.

The speech was part of an ongoing campaign by the Bush administration to push its Middle East reform initiative. Some critics in the region have accused the president of trying to force his views on them with no respect for their own traditions. Mr. Bush acknowledged there is skepticism but said his ideas have been misunderstood.

"Some people in Muslim cultures identify democracy with the worst of western popular culture, and want no part of it. And I assure them, when I speak about the blessings of liberty, coarse videos and crass commercialism are not what I have in mind," he said. "There is nothing incompatible between democratic values and high standards of decency."

The president said representative governments reflect their people, and as a result every democracy has its own structure, traditions and opinions. He stressed America knows it takes time for nations to fulfill the promise of democracy, pointing to the long struggle in the United States to throw off slavery and end racial segregation.

"So we do not expect or demand that other societies be transformed in a day. But however long the journey, there is only one destination worth striving for, and that is a society of self-rule and freedom," he said.

On the first full day of sovereignty for Iraq, Mr. Bush struck a positive note. He said the rise of Iraqi democracy brings hope to reformers across the Middle East, and marks a decisive defeat for extremists and terrorists.

"The terrorists have the ability to cause suffering and grief, but they do not have the power to alter the outcome in Iraq. The civilized world will keep its resolve. The leaders of Iraq are strong and determined. And the people of Iraq will live in freedom," he said.

The speech marked the end of the president's first visit to Turkey. He had two goals during his stay: to win a pledge from the NATO summit in Istanbul to help train and equip Iraqi troops, and to bolster relations with Turkey, the only predominantly Muslim nation in the alliance.