Bush Gets Cold Shoulder in Egypt

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President Bush returns to the U.S. Sunday after a five-day visit to the Middle East. The aim of the trip: to reinforce the Middle East peace process. Winding up the tour with a speech at the World Economic Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, he got a frigid reception, however.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Both the president and the speaker of the House spent their weekends in the Middle East. In a few minutes we'll talk with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about what she saw on her quick visit to Iraq. First, though, to President Bush. He's headed home now after five days aimed at jumpstarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. His final appearance, a speech at the World Economic Forum to lay out his vision for the Middle East.

NPR's Jackie Northam has been traveling with the president all week. She has this report from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The first part of President Bush's speech was devoted to suggestions on how Middle East leaders could improve their economies. He warned Arab oil producers that their supplies are limited and that they must diversify their economies. Mr. Bush said regional leaders need to improve their education systems and guarantee their people greater human rights.

President Bush also addressed security, telling leaders in the audience to reject what he calls spoiler regimes such as Syria and Iran.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in stopping these nations from supporting terrorism. And every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

NORTHAM: Those comments drew very limited response from the audience. President Bush spent much of speech addressing the elusive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Pres. BUSH: A peace agreement is in the Palestinians' interests, it is in Israel's interests, it is in Arab states' interests and it is in the world's interests. And I firmly believe that with leadership and courage we can reach that peace agreement this year.

(Soundbite of applause)

NORTHAM: But there have been some questions this week about President Bush's leadership in the process. He faced much criticism when he was in Israel earlier in the visit that he was more sympathetic to the Jewish state than he was to the Palestinians. The criticism followed him to Saudi Arabia and here to Sharm El Sheikh.

He held a series of closed one-on-one meetings with regional leaders today. Normally the photo opportunities held after such meetings are a chance to show happy smiles and warm relations. Not today - most of the photo ops were very brief, barely cordial, no questions taken.

Still, the White House tried to put a positive spin on the president's visit. Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor, denied the visit to the region was filled with empty rhetoric and that there was tangible progress on hard issues. But he wouldn't elaborate, as details of the negotiations are secret. Mr. Hadley did say that President Bush would return to this region if it could help advance the peace process.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Sharm El Sheikh.

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