President Bush says he is looking forward to his trip to the Middle East, and is curious about what lies ahead for Russia. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports the president used an end-of-the year news conference to discuss the foreign policy challenges he is likely to face in 2008.

President Bush will be off to the Middle East early in the new year, and he says he has several objectives for the trip.

"One is to advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process," he said. "Secondly, is to continue to work with our Arab friends on reconciliation with Israel. And finally is to assure people in Middle East that we understand and will show a strong commitment to the security of the region."

The seven-stop tour of the region will include his first visits to Israel and the West Bank as president.

During his news conference, the president also spoke about his hopes for political progress in Iraq. He said all of his expectations have not been met, but added the legislative process is not always smooth, even in countries with centuries-old democracies like the United States.

"Are we satisfied with the progress in Baghdad? No. But to say nothing is happening is just simply not the case," he said.

President Bush indicated people seem to be feeling better about their lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He said U.S., Afghan and NATO troops are on the offensive against Taliban militants in Afghanistan, noting a review of strategy options there is currently underway.

"It makes sense for us to constantly review our strategy in a variety of theaters. That is what good governance is," he said.

The president praised the work of NATO units from across the alliance. He urged their governments to remain engaged.

"So our objective is to help people meet a mission that they are comfortable with achieving and convince them that this is going to take a while, it is going to take time for this democratic experiment in Afghanistan to work. And I believe it will," said Mr. Bush.

The president talked about his meetings during 2007 with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other world leaders. And he looked ahead to his first contacts in 2008 with new players on the international stage.

He spoke specifically about Russia, which will elect a new president in a few months, replacing Vladimir Putin.

President Putin has been named Time magazine's 2007 'Person of the Year' for his efforts to impose stability and enhance Russia's stature as a world power.

President Bush said only time will tell whether the changes that got Vladimir Putin on the cover of Time magazine have really changed Russia for the better.

"I presume they put him on there because he was a consequential leader. And the fundamental question is consequential to what end? What will the country look like 10 years from now? My hope of course, is that Russia is a country that understands there needs to be checks and balances, free and fair elections and a vibrant press," Mr. Bush said.

President Putin's likely successor is Dmitry Medvedev, who has already said he would like to see Vladmir Putin become prime minister.