Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan shows President Bush a falcon ahead of a traditional dinner at his weekend desert encampment.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan shows President Bush a falcon ahead of a traditional dinner at his weekend desert encampment. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Alice Kreit, NPR
View a map of President Bush's planned route.
View a map of President Bush's planned route. Alice Kreit, NPR
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush delivers his keynote speech on Middle East policy at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
President Bush delivers his keynote speech on Middle East policy at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush addressed the people of the Middle East on Sunday during a stop in the United Arab Emirates on his tour of the region. He launched a new verbal attack on nearby Iran, calling it "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" and accusing Tehran of sending hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world.
"Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late," he said.
Gulf states are worried about a rising Iran, but Tehran is also an important business partner in much of the region, making sanctions a tough sell.
But that was not the only message the president had for the VIPs of Abu Dhabi. The president also came to talk to them about democracy, and he described the United Arab Emirates — an oil-rich nation highly dependent on foreign labor — as a model Muslim state that is tolerant toward people of other faiths.
"You have succeeded in building a prosperous society out of the desert," Bush said. "You have opened your doors to the world economy. You have encouraged women to contribute to the development of your nation — and they have occupied some of your highest ministerial posts."
The women in the room — dressed in black abayas, some with beautifully embroidered details to show some individuality — sat mainly in clusters, though mixed in with the men wearing traditional white robes. It was the Abu Dhabi elite, and though few wanted to say anything about the president afterwards, one man did give a "so-so" sign when asked about the speech.
There was little new in it, and it came from a lame-duck U.S. president, though Bush seemed to be trying to write his own legacy when he talked about how the United States helped rebuild Japan after World War II.
"And just as our commitment to Asia helped people there secure their freedom and prosperity, our commitment to the Middle East will help you achieve yours," he said.
Prosperity is a good word for Abu Dhabi. The president was speaking in a gilded auditorium in the Emirates Palace, a hotel that is said to have cost more than $3 billion to build. Abu Dhabi's crown prince also showed Bush around his weekend desert encampment, where they dined together and the prince showed off his hunting falcons.
And there was one more sign of wealth: On arrival, Bush was given a large necklace encrusted with hundreds of rubies, emeralds and diamonds and a medallion with a hand-painted enamel American flag. A reporter with him said the Secret Service agents called it the biggest "bling" they have ever seen.