President Bush Begins Mideast Trip The president will visit key Gulf allies to talk about what he sees as a rising Iranian threat, and will try to nudge Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. This is his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories as president.
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President Bush Begins Mideast Trip

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President Bush Begins Mideast Trip

President Bush Begins Mideast Trip

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Addressing Iran is one of the many challenges on a trip that's expected to mark a change in style for the president, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Bush administration has been mugged by reality. That's how one analyst, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sees this trip to the Middle East.

JON ALTERMAN: After vowing to transform the Middle East, the administration is submitting to it, resorting to the sort of process-driven incremental diplomacy that previous administrations had pursued and that this administration had disdained.

KELEMEN: The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he says, is a case in point.

ALTERMAN: A friend who used to work in the White House told me, you know, this president doesn't like to tee things up. He's a closer. He likes to close deals. And this deal is not ready to be closed.

KELEMEN: President Bush says that by the time he leaves office, he thinks he can help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a vision of what a Palestinian state would look like. But he and his staff have played down any expectations of a breakthrough on this trip, saying the visit is mainly about trying to keep up the momentum.

GEORGE W: I will make clear that America is deeply committed to helping both parties realize the historic vision we share: two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

KELEMEN: The second part of the president's trip will be to the Gulf, where he will visit with troops in Kuwait, get an update on Iraq, and visit the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says a key issue in the president's talks with Gulf leaders will be Iran.

STEPHEN HADLEY: There's a lot of concern in the region about Iran, not all of it expressed publicly. And I think the president is going to want to go and talk privately and quietly to indicate that we understand the challenge that Iran represents to the region, that our friends and allies in the region can count on our commitment to the region and our continued presence in the region.

KELEMEN: But Vali Nasr, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, says Gulf leaders are skeptical that President Bush knows what he's doing, and doubt a strategy of containing Iran can work.

VALI NASR: The president is going to the Middle East at a very bad time, in a sense that he's going with the aim of trying to sell an old policy without coming up with a new policy to sell, trying to sell the old policy of containment literally right after the Arab governments have already signaled that they are shifting away from that policy.

KELEMEN: Several analysts said they expect President Bush will be on the receiving end of lots of lectures about the realities in the Middle East, though all of that in private. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says many in the region have already written off this president.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: People are going to be polite. They will be accommodating in some ways, but they're well aware that this is not only an election year, it is an election year from an administration that really has no heir that can really speak for the future or run for the future.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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