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Bush embarks on visit to Mideast
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US President George W. Bush left Washington on Tuesday for a week-long Middle East trip aimed at promoting the Middle East peace process and containing Iran's influence in the region.


During the trip, Bush will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


The visit comes just days after tensions were heightened between Iran and the U.S. over a confrontation between Iranian gunboats and U.S. warships in the Gulf. The U.S. branded the incident, in which no shots were fired, a "provocative act," but Tehran played it down as a "normal" occurrence.


A top priority for Bush during the tour is to push forward the Middle East peace process. The United States hosted the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, late November last year to re-launch the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Nearly 50 countries and international organizations attended the conference.


Another top priority for Bush is to try to forge an alliance among Arab countries against Iran with a view to curbing Tehran's influence in the region.


Bush's hardline stance against Iran was dealt a blow late last year when a top U.S. intelligence report revealed that Tehran had suspended its nuclear weapons program several years ago. However, Bush maintained that Iran remained a threat.


(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2008)

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