State Dept: US still strives for Mideast democracy

The United States remains committed to pressing for more democracy in the Middle East despite victories by Islamic fundamentalists in recent elections in Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, top US State Department officials said Tuesday.

The Bush administration has said reform in the Mideast is a top policy concern and has focused on Egypt, a key ally in the region. But many in the region have speculated Washington is backing off pressure on Cairo and other government for change after the wins by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas movement in the Palestinian territories.

“There could be no mistake there about the president’s or the administration’s commitment in pushing for democratic reform in the Arab World,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs J. Scott Carpenter told journalists Tuesday. When asked if this stance holds despite fundamentalist wins, he said “yes.”

“The question is: Are we retreating on our committment to advancing democracy and freedom in the region, the answer is absolutely not,” said Elizabeth L. Dibble, also a deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, who along with Carpenter met with Egyptian officials in Cairo this week.