Bush Mideast Tour Shifts to Gulf Allies

President Bush travels to the countries of U.S. Persian Gulf allies — Bahrain and Kuwait — where he visits military personnel and gets an update on the war in Iraq from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. He is due to visit the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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President Bush is in the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain tonight. He'll visit the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Earlier today, he had a chance to thank U.S. troops based in Kuwait. He also got an update on the war in Iraq from his commander, General David Petraeus and the ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the president and filed this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Bush says he thinks Iraq is a different place from a year ago. Violence is down and hope is returning. But as for hopes that U.S. troops can begin to draw down faster, Mr. Bush said that will depend on the conditions on the ground and on what General David Petraeus thinks he needs.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My attitude is if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the general, if it's - if you want to slow her down, fine, it's up to you.

KELEMEN: When reporters pressed Petraeus about this, he would give no promises.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multi-National Force - Iraq, U.S. Army): We've begun to analyze the possible alternatives and to look at the possibility for reductions beyond the reduction of 15 brigades in July.

KELEMEN: But President Bush didn't get into that sort of detail when he spoke to several thousand troops gathered at the Arifjan military base south of Kuwait City.

Pres. BUSH: Hoo-ah(ph).

KELEMEN: The president thanked them for serving and said the U.S. is in an ideological struggle in the Middle East.

Pres. BUSH: It's hard work that you've done, but it's necessary work. It's hard to be away from your home. But that's a soldier's life.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. BUSH: And you get to e-mailing your family, you tell them I check in with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BUSH: And you're looking pretty good.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: The crowd was not overly enthusiastic, though. Sergeant Jamie Serrano(ph), who's on his third tour doing logistical support for the Iraq war, says he was glad the president came to Camp Arifjan but he was hoping for something more.

Sergeant JAMIE SERRANO (U.S. Army): He just gave us thanks, which we appreciate. But as far foreseeing the future and - I thought - I expected more.

KELEMEN: A member of a National Guard unit from Tennessee, Specialist Outlaw(ph), didn't even really want to be there.

Specialist OUTLAW (U.S. Army): I'm kind of mad because I could have been sleeping right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. OUTLAW: Yeah. We've got voluntold to come here so, it's all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. OUTLAW: Don't mess with Texas.

KELEMEN: It was also a chilly day today in Bahrain, but the president got a warm red carpet welcome there complete with the traditional dance by roadmen holding rifles and swords.

(Soundbite of music)

KELEMEN: When President Bush was given a sword, he held it over his head just as the dancers had done. President Bush said he is the first sitting U.S. president to visit here. And he told the king it's about time. Bahrain is a strategically located country and a host to the U.S. Naval Fifth Fleet, which the president plans to visit tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.

(Soundbite of music)

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President Bush Seeks Closer Persian Gulf Ties

President George W. Bush holds up a sword as he poses for a picture with Bahrain's king.

President George W. Bush holds up a sword as he poses for a picture with his host, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, during an arrival ceremony at Sakhir Palace in the capital Manama. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President George W. Bush is shifting the focus of his Middle East tour from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Iraq War as he travels to Persian Gulf countries.

Speaking at a U.S. military base in Kuwait on Saturday, the president said that the additional U.S. troops sent to Iraq over the past year have produced results, and "hope is returning" to Iraq.

Bush then traveled to Bahrain, a tiny but strategic gulf nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. He is the first U.S. president to visit the country, and the goal is to cultivate close ties.

Greeted by men in long robes performing a traditional sword dance, Bush told the crowd, "I am really honored to be the first U.S. sitting president to have visited your country. Perhaps I should say, it's about time."

Over the next few days, the president will also visit the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He is expected to be greeted by the rulers of these countries as a friend and ally because of the decades-long military protection the United States has offered them from their powerful neighbors, Iran and Iraq.

But the gulf Arab states are worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran, which they fear could destabilize a region that's benefiting from record high oil prices.

With reporting by NPR's Ivan Watson.



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