Daily Star, Lebanon
:Gulf Arabs know better than to follow Bush's path to confrontation with Iran
US President George W. Bush used his speech in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to reiterate many of the same accusations about Iran that we have heard him throw around since his first weeks in office seven years ago. Back then, Iran's president was Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded leader whose efforts to promote inter-cultural understanding earned him the recognition of international institutions such as the United Nations, which acted on his suggestion to proclaim 2001 the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. The ensuing election of Khatami's hard-line successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made Bush's talk of the Iranian "threat" an easier sell, but Arab audiences still seem less worried today about the possibly nefarious aims of the Islamic Republic than they are about the US president's proven track record of stirring up chaos and instability in the region.
Indeed, fears that another Iraq-style calamity will occur on their doorstep have prompted several Gulf Arab leaders to reach out to their Iranian neighbors like never before in a bid to ease regional tensions. This development has ironically made Ahmadinejad the unlikely recipient of a series of rare warm gestures: He became the first Iranian president to be invited to a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the first to attend the hajj in Saudi Arabia in an official capacity, and last May he became the first to go on a state visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Nearly a year after Ahmadinejad's historic visit to the UAE, Bush used the country as a stage from which to issue his Sunday plea to the people of the region to "confront this danger [Iran] before it's too late." What Bush fails to realize is that members of his audience were probably cringing at the tone of his most recent message - and perhaps even planning another round of diplomacy to try to smooth over any new tensions the American head of state may have stirred. Bush showed enormous insensitivity to the concerns of the people of this region by choosing the UAE as a venue to deliver his anti-Iran message. Like its Gulf Arab neighbors who are also on the faultline between Washington and Tehran, the UAE is worried about Iran's rising influence, but it also has a vested interest in calming tensions and maintaining a semblance of regional stability. Indeed, the UAE's leaders have demonstrated skillful and creative diplomacy in simultaneously balancing their country's relations with the US and Iran at a time when the two foes have shown increasing hostility toward one another.
Bush is entitled to his warped opinions about Iran, but his message would have been better-suited for delivery to his deluded cronies in the White House than to his wiser allies in the Gulf. The average American might be fooled by Bush's latest attempt to lump Al-Qaeda, "freedom-haters," Hamas, Hizbullah, the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents and Iran into the same lot (which until recently included France), but the people of this region have a much better understanding of these phenomenons and forces. They fortunately also have a better sense of the real root causes of the region's challenges, as well as the required solutions. Thus the Iranian people can rest easily knowing that Gulf Arab leaders will respond wisely to Bush's latest attempt to stir up mischief.Al Jazeera, Qatar
:US fails to isolate Iran from Arabs
George Bush, the US president, has urged Arab states to think of Iran as the greatest threat to their security, but his warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears in the Middle East.
During a stop in the United Arab Emirates on his Middle East tour on Sunday, Bush called Tehran a "sponsor of terror" and urged Arab allies to confront Iranian "extremism".
But Middle East analysts say the US president is too late as key American allies in the Arab world have thrown their weight behind a growing rapprochement with Iran.
Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst and professor of political science at Tehran University, said American fumbling in the Middle East has pushed Arabs to adopt dialogue with the Islamic Republic.
He said: "America's wrong policies in the Middle East have ironically helped Iran's voice be heard more clearly, as well as Iran's political prudence that has kept it away from the conflicts in the area.
"At this moment in time, the United States' popularity is at its lowest level among the people all over the Arab world, and Iran's popularity has grown immensely as the only regional power standing against the United States in the same region."Unprecedented moves
For most of 2007, the US tried to push through a UN resolution to impose economic sanctions on Iran if it did not halt its alleged nuclear weapons programme.
But Washington failed in its bid to isolate Iran in the Middle East.
Not only did its Arab allies reject a punitive US military strike against Iran, but they were also keen on bolstering their own ties with the country.
The members of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, to attend their annual meeting held in Doha, Qatar last December while Egypt engaged in shuttle diplomacy of its own with Tehran.
Often contentious issues between Iran and its neighbours, such as a string of disputed islands bordering the United Arab Emirates, were shelved for later "dialogue" in favour of building trust and rapprochement.
Weeks later, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Ahmadinejad to perform the Hajj in Mecca.
Even Egypt has been keen on extending a friendly hand towards Iran. For the first time in 27 years, the two countries are discussing the possibility of renewing diplomatic relations and reopening Tehran's embassy in Cairo.
In 1980, Tehran cut off ties when Anwar Sadat, then Egyptian president, hosted Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the deposed Shah of Iran.
Iran also blamed Egypt for supporting its enemy during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
But last week, Ahmadinejad told Iranian television that if Egypt decided to restore full diplomatic ties, he would "put the new Iranian ambassador on the next plane to Cairo". Street name changed
Iran also caved in to Egyptian demands and recently changed the name of a Tehran street honouring Khaled el-Islamboli, the man who assassinated Sadat.
Fahmy Howeidy, an Egyptian scholar and expert on Iran, believes recent conflicts, including the Iraq war, have elevated Tehran's importance in the region.
"For one, no one can talk about the Iraqi file without mentioning Iran. Iran is also involved in the Lebanese and Afghani files [and] it has connections with the Syrians, the Palestinians. Thus, if anyone wants to reach a settlement in the region, he should approach Iran," he told Al Jazeera.
Mustafa Bakri, an Egyptian MP and opposition journalist, agrees.
He said: "In the coming period, Iran will play a significant role in the Gulf regional security, perhaps even with the undeclared consent of the international powers.
"At the same time, the Gulf countries would seek to assure Iran that their lands will not be a base from which any war against it will be launched."
Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, earlier said that existing relations between Iran and its Arab neighbours should be strengthened.
He said: "We believe the stronger the ties get, the more stability, peace and security the Persian Gulf region will enjoy and that is a crucial necessity needed by both Iran and its neighbours in the region."
Marandi believes that the normalisation of Arab ties with Iran also plays to domestic consumption.
"It's despite US pressure that Arab countries are extending a friendly hand towards Iran," he said.
"The reality is that a lot of the Arab regimes have always been very close to the United States and some of them have been dependent on the United States.
"It's for the benefits of these governments to strengthen ties with the Iranian government and be seen as independent."Role in Iraq
In Iraq, Iranian influence - and involvement - is becoming pivotal to stabilising the country, five years after the US-led invasion that toppled the Saddam Hussein government.
In late January, US and Iranian representatives are expected to sit for a fourth round of discussions over Iraq's security.
Ahead of the talks, US generals who once accused Iran of arming and training Shia death squads, conceded that Iran has a constructive role to play in Iraq by curbing arms and fighters from crossing the border.
Hussein Hafez, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said the US has tried to isolate Iraqi Shias from Iran since 2003.
He said: "Iraq's Shia society is an integral element in the architecture of America's tie-up with Iran and vice versa. Iran is a major and influential state in the region. It is not possible any more for the American think-tanks and decision-makers to deal so naively and simply with a state like Iran."
Hafez says Tehran's ongoing support for Shia militias, which he believes undermine US efforts in Iraq, make US-Iran negotiations "inevitable".
"The Iranian-US dialogue in so many ways reminds me of the US foreign policy shift before its complete defeat in Vietnam; back then,the American strategy experts had noted that the US administration had changed its policies towards the countries of south-east Asia."
However, Iraq is unlikely to benefit from US-Iran talks, he said.
"Unfortunately, the US does not care about the interests of any of Iraq's factions. It is its own interests that it serves."Cautious steps
While the threat of war between the US and Iran has significantly subsided since a National Intelligence Estimate report said Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, tensions remain high.
Bush's Iran terror warning earlier this week was preceded by a showdown between Iranian gunboats and US warships in the Gulf.
Iranians say such brinkmanship and speeches means that Tehran still distrusts Washington's intentions and is waiting for the US elections for any signs of a shift in strategy.
"Iran is wary of the US policy change," says Marandi in Tehran.
"I don't think that the Iranians really believe that this [US] administration has shifted its policy towards Iran and I think that they are waiting to see what the next administration will do." Middle East Times, Egypt
:Bush tries to 'sell' democracy
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- After spending the last few days trying to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, President Bush continued his tour of the Middle East, this time flaunting democracy to the oil-rich Gulf countries the way traders in this business-minded society flaunt their wares along the Dubai waterfront or in the old market place in Abu Dhabi.
Sunday's speech, delivered by Bush in Abu Dhabi, was the highlight of his six-nation, eight-day Middle East tour. It was intended to be a keynote speech where the president outlined his vision for the Middle East.
Although he was addressing an audience of businessmen, government officials, academics and students – all of whom were carefully selected – Bush was, in fact, talking to all the people of the Middle East, reminding them of what he had previously said numerous times – that "democracy is the only system of government that yields peace and stability."
Those words might go down well with many people in the region but it's certainly not something his hosts – princes and kings, some of whom are absolute rulers – would have enjoyed hearing.
Being careful not to upset any of the leaders he is trying to recruit for an eventual showdown with Iran – be it political or even military -- Bush avoided naming individual countries or rulers – except of course for Iran. Bush chided the leaders of the region for holding back on democratization.
"You cannot build trust when you hold an election were opposition candidates find themselves harassed and in prison," he said. "You cannot expect people to believe in the promise of a better future when they are jailed for peacefully petitioning their government.
"And you cannot stand up a modern confident nation when you do not allow people to voice their legitimate criticisms."
He could in fact have been addressing any of the Middle East's leaders, including his next two hosts: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Egypt for its heavy-handed approach in dealing with opposition groups demanding political change, fair elections and a greater say in their government. Mubarak tends to reply to these demands by sending out riot police armed with batons.
But if Bush was discreet in his address to the Arab leaders, the gloves came off when it came to talking about Iran, situated just some 150 miles from where Bush was standing, across the clear blue waters of the Gulf, of which even the name is disputed. The Arabs tend to call it the Arabian Gulf and Iran refers to it as the Persian Gulf.
Bush called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" and accused Tehran of sending hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world.
"Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," he said. "So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late."
Gulf states have mixed feelings about Iran. On the one hand the oil-rich Gulf states – Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman – have always looked at their Persian neighbor with trepidation. That fear may have somewhat grown in recent years since Iran has been trying repeatedly to export its Islamic revolution. Additionally, the notion of a nuclear-armed Iran does nothing to alleviate this fear.
But on the other hand, Iran has always been one of the Gulf countries' primary trading partners. During his visit to Dubai on Monday, where he will be only 100 miles away from Iran, if Bush were able to stroll along the Dubai waterfront, he would see the scores of dhows loaded with merchandise going to and coming from Iran. Just as they have for the last several centuries.
Of his host for today, the United Arab Emirates, Bush described it as "a model Muslim state that is tolerant toward people of other faiths."
Addressing the leaders of Abu Dhabi, he said: "You have succeeded in building a prosperous society out of the desert. You have opened your doors to the world economy. You have encouraged women to contribute to the development of your nation — and they have occupied some of your highest ministerial posts."
"And just as our commitment to Asia helped people there secure their freedom and prosperity, our commitment to the Middle East will help you achieve yours." he said.
But just as the leaders in the region heard from Bush talk about democratization which they did not necessarily appreciate, Bush will in return hear from them talk about Iran that he in turn might not appreciate. What Bush might hear from Iran's neighbors is to tone down the rhetoric and avoid a confrontation that would drag the entire region into mayhem.Khaleej Times, UAE
:Bush speech draws mixed response
ABU DHABI — President George W. Bush’s speech that he delivered here yesterday has drawn mixed reactions from political, social and human resource experts.
Some viewed the speech as a credit to the wise leadership of the UAE in being capable of maintaining excellent foreign relationship and rectifying the image of Arabs in the West. Others underestimated the force of Bush’s speech in making any tangible change when it comes to the Palestinain-Israeli conflict.
Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, which hosted yesterday’s speech by the US President, said Bush spoke of all the issues, but the most important was peace between Palestine and Israel.
“Now is the right time for peace, not tomorrow,” he said.
Al Suwaidi called on Israel to adopt the Saudi plan for peace. “We want peace, we are against what is happening in Palestine now. From Morocco to Oman, all the Arab world wants peace,” he said.
In the context of Israel, he said that terrorism was a product of fear.
“Iran with President Ahmedinajad is a threat to the region,” Al Suwaidi said.
Tariq Al Shaikh, Executive Director of Abu Dhabi Ghantoot Centre for Consulting and Training, said: “Bush’s speech is a mere propaganda to justify the US Administration’s policy in the Middle East. The president tried to revive his call for democracy and freedom which actually contradicts with the reality if we took into consideration the US policy in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Sudan. He tried to justify his government’s intervention in these countries’ domestic affairs.”
He further pointed out, “America has to realise that Arab states have their traditions, norms and civilisation that it must respect. Bush’s accusation of Iran for sponsoring terrorism and causing instability in the region reflects the US double standard in the region whereby it ignores Israel, which posseses nuclear weapons, and tries its best to punish Iran.”
Elias B. Sayeh, Vice-President for Membership of the American Business Group of Abu Dhabi, said: “Bush’s speech indicates the successful foreign policy of the UAE, which is actually based on the visionary leadership of this country. Even though it came late, the speech is to the credit of the UAE government which shows that it is not just petrol that is capable of building up good external relationship. It also stresses that the federal ruling system in this country is competitive and economic, and successful in securing interests of individuals.”
“Bush’s speech is a call to the Arab world to lobby in Washington D.C., like the UAE does, in an attempt to serve Arab issues and rectify image of the Arab states in the West. It emphasises that trade is always the road to peace,” said Sayeh.
Dr Jamal Al Majayda, media expert at the UAE National Media Council, said: “Bush’s speech is a clear call to the countries in the region to normalise relationship with Israel. He tried to rally support against Iran and incite the Iranian people to revolt against the government. Bush was trying to record some points in favour of his tenure and assured his allies in the region of democracy, which he knows has become a basic demand for countries in the region but without foreign intervention.”