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US Seeks to Promote 'Democracy' in Middle East: Newspaper

The Bush administration has launched an ambitious bid to promote "democracy" in the "greater Middle East" that will adapt a model used to press for changes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, The Washington Post reported Monday.  

According to the newspaper, senior US officials have begun talks with key European allies on a master plan to be put forward this summer at summits of the Group of Eight nations, NATO allies and the European Union.


With international backing, the United States then hopes to win commitments of action from Middle East and South Asian countries.


"It's a sweeping change in the way we approach the Middle East," a senior State Department official was quoted as saying. "We hope to roll out some of the principles for reform in talks with the Europeans over the next few weeks, with specific ideas of how to support them."


Details are still being crafted. But the initiative, scheduled to be announced at the G-8 summit hosted by President George W. Bush at Sea Island, Georgia, in June, would call for Arab and South Asian governments to adopt major political reforms, be held accountable on "human rights" and introduce economic reforms.


As incentives for the targeted countries to cooperate, Western nations would offer to expand political engagement, increase aid, facilitate membership in the World Trade Organization and foster security arrangements, possibly some equivalent to the Partnership for Peace with former Eastern Bloc countries.


The administration's general goal is to put meat on the bones of Bush's call for political change throughout the Islamic world, outlined in two speeches he made last fall in Washington and in London separately, US officials say.


The administration had originally pledged that ousting former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and creating a Palestinian state would serve as catalysts for democracy.


But now that the Arab-Israeli peace process is deadlocked and Iraq's political transition is in trouble, the United States is effectively leapfrogging both to generate political change in the region, according to US and European officials.


(Xinhua News Agency February 10, 2004)

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