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Bush defends Middle East record

George W Bush
President Bush said that Iran's nuclear programme was a threat to the US

President George W Bush has defended his Middle East policies, but said his successor Barack Obama would inherit problems in the region.

He said his administration had been "ambitious in vision, bold in action and firm in purpose".

Iran was still seeking nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict remained "the most vexing problem", he said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

He defended the Iraq invasion and said the region was now a freer place.

He also pointed to improved relations between the US and Libya.

'Longer and more costly'

"On the most vexing problem in the region - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - there is now greater international consensus than at any point in recent memory," he said.

"While the Israelis and Palestinians have not yet produced an agreement, they have made important progress," he said. "They have laid a new foundation of trust for the future."

Mr Bush admitted that the Iraq war had been "longer and more costly than expected," but said that his decision to invade had been justified.

"America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Mr Bush asserted that "Iran is facing greater pressure from the international community than ever before", and warned that the country's nuclear programme remained a major threat to peace.

President-elect Obama has also identitfied Iran's nuclear ambitions as a threat to American security, although, unlike President Bush, he has said he would be prepared to conduct face-to-face meetings, without preconditions, with the Iranian leadership.

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