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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 18:55 GMT
Syria attacks US Mid-East actions
US President George W Bush
Bush sent a message for Middle East leaders
The US president is sincere in urging a more stable Middle East but his actions risk bringing more hatred into US-Arab relations, a Syrian minister has said.

Emigrant Affairs Minister Buthayna Shaaban's comments are the first official Syrian reaction to Mr Bush's vision for greater Mid-East democracy.

Dr Shaaban said solving the region's problems required abandoning "bias".

Analysts say her comments are a repetition of Damascus' routine charge that the US favours Israel over Arabs.

"We do not doubt your intentions," the Syrian minister of wrote in the government-controlled al-Thawra newspaper.

But she added that Mr Bush's policy "has closed all peace horizons".

Our commitment to democracy is being tested in the Middle East
US President George W Bush

She said people should be treated "on an equal footing" and the US should abandon "bias, violence, racism, occupation... and repression".

Dr Shaaban also warned that Washington's current policies in the region would "widen the gap between the US and the whole world, and also threaten international peace".

An editorial in the same issue condemned Mr Bush's vision for democracy and rejected what it called an "American guardianship" over sovereign states in the region.

'Defining' speech

In his speech on Thursday, Mr Bush deplored what he called the "freedom deficit" in the Middle East, saying that Washington must remain focused on the region "for decades".

The president criticised Syria and Iraq in particular, saying that dictators in those countries had "left a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and pain".

But he said that some governments in the region were "beginning to see the need for change", singling out Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen.

The president also stressed that "Islam is consistent with democratic rule", saying that to state that Islam and democracy were incompatible was "cultural condescension".

The BBC's Rob Watson in Washington says that Mr Bush's speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in the US capital may come to be seen as a defining moment in his presidency.

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