13 January 2008

Bush Urges UAE to Help Lebanon Preserve its Government

U.S. President George Bush on Sunday urged the United Arab Emirates, which has shown little enthusiasm for Washington's tough stand against Tehran, to support U.S. policy goals in the region, including Lebanon and Iraq.
"We urge you to join us in committing the resources to help the Palestinians build the institutions of a free society, help the citizens of Lebanon preserve their government and their sovereignty in the face of outside pressure from their neighbours, show the Iraqis that you support them in their effort to build a more hopeful nation," Bush said in a keynote address of a Middle East tour.

He reached out to the Iranian people, telling them they had a right to live under a government "that listens to your wishes".

In a wide-ranging speech in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, he also urged Gulf Arab leaders to support efforts to clinch an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of 2008.

Bush hit out at the Tehran regime across the Gulf saying that it was "today the world's leading state sponsor of terror" and, with Al-Qaeda, the main threat to the region's stability.

The U.S. president also addressed Israelis and Palestinians telling the former that peace with their Arab neighbours was the best guarantee of security and the latter that they should "reject the terrorists who pose the greatest threat to a Palestinian state."

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Iran's main trading partner with up to 10,000 Iranian firms operating in its commercial hub of Dubai and Bush's intention to use the platform to speak out against the Tehran regime had been well trailed.

"To the people of Iran, you're rich in culture and talent. You have the right to live under a government that listens to your wishes, respects your talents and allows you to build better lives for your families," he said.

"Unfortunately your government denies you these opportunities and threatens the peace and stability of your neighbors.
"So we call on the regime in Tehran to heed your will, and to make itself accountable to you."

The Middle East tour which Bush began in Israel last Wednesday has been overshadowed by renewed tensions with Tehran following a face-off between Iranian and U.S. naval vessels in the entrance to the Gulf earlier this month.

Washington has since repeatedly warned Tehran that its commanders are authorized to use force in self-defense if necessary and Bush has stepped up his rhetoric against the Iranian regime.

"Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," the U.S. president said in Abu Dhabi. "It seeks to intimidate its neighbors with missiles and bellicose rhetoric."

But in an embarrassing climb own that was gleefully seized on by Tehran, the Pentagon admitted that a sound recording it had released of a voice threatening to blow up the U.S. vessels may not have emanated from the Iranian vessels.

The Navy Times reported that U.S. naval experts now believe the threatening voice may have been that of a local heckler known as the "Filipino Monkey" who frequently interrupts ship-to-ship radio traffic with insulting interventions.

Tehran accused Washington on Sunday of distorting the incident "to fool the region" during Bush's visit and called on U.S. officials to apologize.

Bush also used his speech in Abu Dhabi to urge Israelis and Palestinians to have faith in the renewed peace negotiations launched in Annapolis outside Washington in November and to shun the alternative of armed struggle and war.

"To the Palestinian people, the dignity and sovereignty that is your right is within your reach," said Bush, who after a first visit to the Holy Land as president last week, said he is "very hopeful" a final peace deal can be reached before he leaves office in January.

Bush renewed his call for reform in the Middle East pointing to the example of Japan after World War II where he said a thriving democracy had been built without affecting indigenous culture or religion, despite the strong opposition of supporters of an absolute emperor.

He listed a string of Arab countries which had held elections in recent years.

Even in the UAE, indirect elections to an advisory federal council, which are the only polls to have been held so far, were the "first step in a wider reform," he said.

In Egypt, where Bush is due on Wednesday at the end of his week-long Gulf tour after a visit to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. president was branded a murderer not welcome in the country by the main opposition party on Sunday.

"We say to Bush Junior -- whose hands are not just bloodstained but soaked in our blood -- that neither you nor your American administration assistants are welcome in our land or under our skies," the Muslim Brotherhood said.(AFP-Naharnet)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.