Bush: Tough message for Middle East leaders
President George W Bush has deplored the "freedom deficit" in the Middle East and said the United States must remain focused on the region "for decades".
"Our commitment to democracy is being tested in the Middle East," he said in a televised Washington speech in defence of US democracy.
Mr Bush said dictators in Iraq and Syria had "left a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and ruin".
Turning to Iran, he warned that "the regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy".
But some governments in the region were "beginning to see the need for change", he said, citing Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen.
He also stressed that "Islam is consistent with democratic rule" in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.
He said that to say Islam and democracy were incompatible was "cultural condescension".
The BBC's Rob Watson in Washington says the speech may come to be seen as a defining moment in the Bush presidency.
Mr Bush compared his drive for global democracy with the legacy of his Republican predecessor Ronald Reagan, whose tough stance against communism helped democracy to take root in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
Creating a free Iraq
The lack of freedom in many Middle Eastern countries today had terrible consequences for the peoples of those countries, he said, blaming it for poverty and the oppression of women.
"Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation," he said.
"The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."
He warned that it would be reckless to accept the status quo, so the US had adopted a new "forward" strategy in the Middle East.
"The good and capable people of the Middle East all
deserve responsible leadership," he said.
"For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects. They deserve to be active citizens."
Democratic first steps?
Mr Bush warned that if freedom remained stifled in the Middle East the region would remain "a place of stagnation,
resentment and violence ready for export".
He praised efforts by some governments in the region, but singled out others for words of warning or encouragement.
- Egypt: "Has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East"
- Iran: "The regime must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy"
- Iraq and Syria: Dictators "left a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin"
- Jordan: "Held historic elections this summer"
- Kuwait: "Has a directly elected national assembly"
- Palestinians: "Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform, and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They're the main obstacles to peace..."
- Saudi Arabia: "The government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections"
- Yemen: "Has a multi-party political system"
Outside the Middle East, he also said the American commitment to democracy was being tested "in countries like Cuba, Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe".
And he said China now had just "a sliver, a fragment of liberty".