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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 May, 2004, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Mid-East media lukewarm on Bush speech
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media correspondent

US President George W Bush's speech setting out his vision for Iraq has been greeted as offering nothing new by the Middle East media.

President Bush
Arab commentators say the speech was for a domestic audience

Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya - the pan-Arab satellite television stations that have become major sources of news and opinion-makers in the Arab world - gave considerable prominence to Mr Bush's speech.

They placed emphasis on his declaration that more difficult days can be expected in Iraq both before and after the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of June.

In Iran, state television accused the president of empty propaganda and hypocrisy.

President Bush's speech was aimed at domestic, world and, of course, Middle Eastern opinion - each audience having its own concerns about events in Iraq.

Judging by reaction from the Arab world's main sources of television news, his words seem unlikely to get more than a lukewarm response in the Middle East.

Al-Jazeera led its bulletins with the speech until news of the latest violence in Iraq relegated Mr Bush to lower down the running order.

Its conclusion was that his words had little new to offer.

The station interviewed a political analyst in Baghdad, Abd-al-Razzaq al Na'as, who said he did not think the speech would do much to clarify the situation for ordinary Iraqis.

And he made an allusion to what he perceived as American arrogance: "The message in the speech was not that Iraqis will be given sovereignty but that the US will grant them this sovereignty as a gift."

Another analyst interviewed on al-Jazeera - Usama Abu-Rashid in Washington - said the speech raised more questions than answers.

He said it was being seen in Washington as an attempt by Mr Bush to win back American public opinion.

'Baseless promises'

That was a point picked up in an interview on al-Arabiya by Halim Barakat, who said the speech was part of the President's re-election strategy.

"I believe he's lost popularity and support - and of course he has an election campaign and so wants to influence public opinion by saying everything is fine and will go just as the US wants," Mr Barakat said.

To this end, Mr Barakat said the president had concentrated on the bright side in Iraq, and had said little about the grimmer aspects of the situation.

So far, Mr Bush's speech seems to have had little impact in the Arab world - where the latest violence in Iraq has already taken over the headlines, obscuring his message.

In Iran, state television has been harsher, describing Mr Bush's promises for Iraq as baseless and unrealistic.

It said the speech was propaganda and another attempt to repair America's reputation after the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison.


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