Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bush to clarify positions

WHOSE FREEDOM?US President Bush's inaugural speech talks about the importance of spreading democracy throughout the world; some are skeptical


US President George W. Bush turned from inaugural pageantry to a daunting second-term agenda while his administration scrambled to explain his newly declared goal of ending tyranny around the world.

The president's expansive pledge, the major theme of his inaugural address, raised questions about whether Bush intended to apply new standards to allies or partners that are not ideal democracies, or aren't democracies at all. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and other countries fit that description.

Bush "made clear it was not something preceded by force of arms," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

"I think you'll see him carry a new level of, shall we say, support for democratic forces in various countries," Boucher said. "It doesn't mean we abandon our friends. But many of our friends realize it's time for them to change anyway."

Boucher cited municipal elections in Saudi Arabia as one democratic advance, and said the US has long raised objections to human rights violations in China.

"We've always been critical of problems in China with human rights. And we will continue to make that part of our relationship."

While Bush pledged to advance liberty in the nations deemed repressive, the US has maintained strong ties with countries whose policies it openly criticizes. For example, some allies in the war against terror -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan -- engage in political repression in varying degrees, according to the State Department.

As the world assessed the meaning of Bush's commitment, North Korea condemned the US as a "wrecker of democracy as it ruthlessly infringes upon the sovereignty of other countries." Tensions with North Korea have been raw since Bush branded it part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and prewar Iraq.

The day after his inauguration, the president threw a White House luncheon and attended a National Prayer Service, following a tradition set by the nation's first chief executive, George Washington. The hourlong service brought together 3,200 invited family, Cabinet members and others in National Cathedral.

Bush is remaining in Washington part of the weekend to attend a black-tie dinner Saturday night. But he will fly to the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains today and remain there until tomorrow afternoon. He will speak to an anti-abortion rally in Washington by telephone tomorrow.

With the inauguration over, the administration is increasing its focus on Bush's second-term agenda of overhauling the Social Security pension system, liberalizing the nation's immigration laws, simplifying taxes and spreading democracy across the Middle East.

His most pressing problem is Iraq. More than 1,360 Americans dead and 10,500 wounded in Iraq's violence. Bush hopes the elections will begin to bring stability and strengthen the foundations of democracy.

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