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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 09:12 GMT
'Freedom' at the heart of Bush foreign policy
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

President Bush used the word "freedom" twenty-one times and the word "liberty" seven times in his State of the Union speech on Wednesday night.

George W Bush
Mr Bush has pledged to support Iranians in their pursuit of freedom
It did not quite match the twenty-eight uses of "freedom" and fifteen uses of "liberty" in his inaugural speech last month - the speech which set the tone for his foreign policy - but it shows what this speech was all about.

By contrast, in last year's State of the Union address, "freedom" appeared only eight times and "liberty" only once.

The theme came into his first paragraph this time with his reference, bolstered by the elections on Sunday, to a "free and sovereign Iraq."

And it was almost inevitable therefore that the last word in his speech, before his usual farewell of "God Bless America", should be: "The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable - yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom."

Political continuity

It is a significant use of language and one that illustrates the confident march of a re-elected president with clear ideas as to the conduct of foreign policy.

It is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. There is an unbroken political and philosophical line running from Reagan to George W Bush.

And where President Reagan called for liberty in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, so President Bush declares that he is trying to do the same for the Middle East.

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression
George W Bush

"Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honoured in Iraq," he said.

Perhaps the most striking use of these words was in relation to Iran.

"And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you," he declared.

The phrase was not plucked from thin air. It was used in the inaugural speech.

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."

But here it was applied specifically and deliberately to Iran.

Iran policy evolution

The extent to which his policy on Iran has evolved from criticism of the government to active encouragement of opposition can be seen by what he said, or did not say, in 2002 - the "axis of evil" speech, in which Iran was named as one part of the axis.

"Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom," was how he put it then.

No mention there of standing up "for your own liberty", let alone a promise that "America stands with you".

What does that mean in practice?

We expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom
George W Bush
Mr Bush was careful here to indicate support for the European tactic of negotiating with Iran to try to end its development of enriched uranium.

Britain, France and Germany are currently talking to Iran in the hope that it can be persuaded to give up enrichment in return for assured fuel supplies for its nuclear power and for better trade agreements.

These talks are likely to come to a head sometimes this summer.

He is giving time for the talks to conclude one way or another. But if they fail, a confrontation could grow.

So could threats to Iran from Israel, which incidentally Mr Bush did not criticise at all in his speech.

The president has not declared war against Iran. But he has declared hostility.

It is worth noting that North Korea, which, unlike Iran, might actually have nuclear weapons already, was hardly mentioned.

"We're working closely with the governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions," was all he said.

Middle East matters

Of course, in calling for greater freedoms in the Middle East, he could not ignore the failings of America's friends. So he called for reform and greater democracy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Syria was pointedly put on notice, as if a junior member of the "axis of evil" club: "We expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom," Mr Bush said.

The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach - and America will help them achieve that goal
George W Bush

As for the most pressing problem of all in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, there was a sign that he is giving it greater attention.

He used the word "Palestine", which he did not last year.

This time the aim is clear: "The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach - and America will help them achieve that goal."

On the eve of Condoleezza Rice's first visit to the Middle East as the new secretary of state, it was an important signal to send.

Making it happen of course is another and more difficult matter.

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