Bush plays down call for Gulf reforms
|Monday, January 14,2008 12:44|
|By Daniel Dombey and Simeon Kerr in Abu Dhabi|
President George W. Bush on Sunday toned down his rhetoric on democratic change, as he sought to persuade the Gulf states to reduce their ties with Iran.Although Mr Bush"s speech was billed by the White House as a "signature" address on "democracy and advancing freedom", it fell short of the bold statements of his second inaugural address, when he promised to "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world".
Delivering the set-piece speech of his Middle East trip to an invited audience in a $3bn Abu Dhabi hotel, Mr Bush hailed the United Arab Emirates for having "shown the world a model of a Muslim state".
"You cannot build trust when you hold an election where opposition candidates find themselves harassed or in prison," he said in an apparent allusion to Egypt, which has jailed Ayman Nour, the leading opposition candidate in the country"s only contested presidential election.US officials say the focus of Mr Bush"s visit to the Gulf states, which sees him visit both Dubai and Saudi Arabia Monday, is his effort to increase pressure on Iran."Iran"s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," Mr Bush said in his speech."So the US is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late."
In particular, Washington is concerned at the extent of banking ties between Dubai and Iran. It wants the financial centre to go beyond the current United Nations sanctions on Tehran by stopping business with big Iranian banks - such as Bank Saderat, Bank Melli and Bank Mellat - that are already the subject of unilateral US sanctions.There is some evidence that the message is getting through. The UAE central bank is understood to have advised domestic lenders, including those in Dubai, to be cautious when underwriting exports to Iran.