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Bush, Blair discuss plans for Palestinian move to democracy

WASHINGTON (BP)–In their first joint news conference since the U.S. elections, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed to “finish the job” of securing freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan and laid out plans for cooperation with the Palestinian people in establishing democracy in the broader Middle East in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death.

The president and prime minister spoke from the East Room of the White House Nov. 12, reiterating the partnership between their two nations and their determination to fight terrorism by spreading freedom.

“All that we hope to achieve together requires that America and Europe remain close partners,” Bush said. “We are the pillars of the free world. We face the same threats and share the same belief in freedom and the rights of every individual…. We must apply the combined strength and moral purpose of Europe and America to effectively fight terror and to overcome poverty and disease and despair, to advance human dignity, and to advance freedom.”

Bush and Blair also released a joint statement Nov. 12 outlining a five-step process toward permanent democracy and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The steps include establishing a Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel; supporting the Palestinians as they elect a new president; mobilizing international support to develop the political, economic and security infrastructure a viable Palestinian state would need; supporting the disengagement plan proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Gaza and the West Bank; and achieving final status negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

“The United States and the United Kingdom share a vision of freedom, peace and democracy for the broader Middle East,” the Bush-Blair statement said. “That vision must include a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on two democratic states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security. Now is the time to seize the opportunity of new circumstances in the region to redouble our efforts to achieve this goal.”

Both leaders expounded on their joint statement during the news conference. Bush said he is optimistic that peace can be achieved and that he will work for the next four years toward that end.

“I believe that the responsibility for peace is going to rest with the Palestinian people’s desire to build a democracy and Israel’s willingness to help them build a democracy,” the president said. “I know we have a responsibility as free nations to set forth a strategy that will help the Palestinian people head toward democracy. I don’t think there will ever be lasting peace until there is a free, truly democratic society in the Palestinian territories that becomes a state.”

When a reporter asked whether the president would be willing to send a U.S. envoy to an international conference on the Middle East, Bush said, “We’ll do what it takes to get a peace,” and added that he is in favor of all conferences as long as they produce something.

“But one thing is for certain: We are going to develop a strategy so that once the elections are over, we’ll be able to say, ‘Here’s how we will help you,'” Bush said, alluding to the Palestinian presidential election to be held within 60 days. “‘If you want to be helped, here’s what we’re willing to do. If you choose not to be helped, if you decide you don’t want a free, democratic society, there’s nothing we can do.'”

During his remarks, Blair identified three major objectives the United States and Britain must accomplish in order to defeat terrorism. The first, he said, is to bring democracy to Afghanistan, which is being done with the election of President Karzai. Second, the two nations must complete their mission in Iraq.

“And I have no doubt at all that whatever the difficulties the terrorists and insurgents — supporters of Saddam Hussein — may pose for us, that we will overcome those difficulties — ourselves, the multinational force, together with the Iraqi government — and ensure that Iraq can be that democratic, stable state that the vast majority of Iraqis, I know, will want to see,” Blair said.

The third major objective is a “genuine, lasting and just peace” among Israelis and Palestinians. The prime minister said he is committed to doing anything necessary to making the strategy work and that the bottom line is the formation of a viable democratic Palestinian state.

A reporter asked Bush whether he would be satisfied if the Palestinian people chose “the harsh peace of a dictator,” someone who is not favorable to democracy but who is able to get along with Israel. Bush said it’s a contradiction in terms to say a dictator gets elected, because if the people elect him, democracy has spoken.

“You can be elected and then be a strong man, and then you get voted out, so long as you end up honoring democracy,” the president said. “But if you’re true to democracy, you’ll listen to the people, not your own desires. If you’re true to democracy, you’ll do what the people want you to do. That’s the difference between democracy and a tyrant.”

The president added that the reason he is such an advocate of democracy is that democracies don’t go to war with each other. He noted that after World War II, people were skeptical that Japan could ever become a democracy, but today Prime Minister Koizumi is one of his closest friends because democracy has taken hold there and the two nations are able to be allies. He also mentioned Germany.

“There were some, I suspect maybe in Great Britain and I know in America, that were writing, ‘You’re wasting your time to promote democracy in Germany,’ after World War II,” Bush said. “And yet, fortunately, people who preceded us had great faith in liberty to transform societies.

“… And it’s hard and it’s difficult, particularly in a society like Iraq, because the terrorists understand the stakes of freedom and they’re willing to kill people in brutal fashion to stop it,” the president said. “And I believe we have a duty and an obligation to work to make sure democracy takes hold. It’s a duty to our own country. It’s a duty to generations of Americans and children of Great Britain to help secure the peace by promoting democratic societies.”

Blair said it is necessary to have faith in the ability of “ordinary, decent people” to decide their own future. He noted the Central East European countries that have only become democracies over the past 10 years and are part of the European Union now. Many of them have faced fierce election debates and the work has been difficult, he said.

“But you go to those countries and talk to the people there, and their sense of liberation and their sense of self-worth as a result of the freedom they have, that is the best testament to why it’s sensible to have faith in democracy,” Blair said.

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  • Erin Curry