LONDON – Iranian and Hamas leaders rejected President Bush's call for change in his State of the Union address, but many Europeans welcomed his recognition that America's gas guzzling days must end.
Bush had harsh words for Iran, which he said was being "held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people" and the militant Palestinian group Hamas in his speech Tuesday night.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the United States Wednesday, calling it a "hollow superpower" that is "tainted with the blood of nations" and said Tehran would continue its nuclear program.
The speech drew mixed reactions in Europe, with some saying it was a bid by Bush to regain popularity with unrealistic promises and others welcoming his energy initiatives.
"Many people have said it is amazing that an oil man would do that. But the oil man is the president and the president has low ratings," said Robert McGeehan, a fellow in American Foreign Policy at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. "Americans love motor cars and high petrol prices have affected them."
French daily Le Monde was skeptical that Bush could reach his goal of cutting oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent in the next two decades.
"The goal seems difficult to reach for the United States, which is expected to consume 26 million barrels of oil per day in 2025, with 60 percent from imports," it said.
Even so, activists like Steven Sawyer, a spokesman for Greenpeace International, wished him well — and offered hope that the U.S. Congress would back his vision with funding.
"The first step in dealing with an addiction is recognizing the problem," Sawyer said. "Good luck to him. It's something that desperately needs to be done."
On Iraq, Bush declared that the United States must stay the course and that America must "keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in its vital mission."
Some Iraqis expressed anger over the long-term presence of U.S. troops while others welcomed the words, saying they believed the Americans had little choice but to stick it out to prevent civil war.
"President George Bush stated that the troops wouldn't leave the country. But it would be better for the Iraqi people if the U.S. troops would get out," Raid Fadhil said Wednesday in Baghdad.
Abdul-Halim al-Rihaimi, an Iraqi political commentator, said American forces should stay until Iraqi police and soldiers are ready to deal with the violence.
"Any retreat of the (coalition) forces now would be considered premature and would (see) the whole country fall into the hands of the (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi group and those from the previous regime," he said. "That would plunge the country into chaos for years."
Bush appeared to tone down his criticism of North Korea and his concerns over the growing competitiveness of China and India, experts in Asia said.
He made a single mention of North Korea in his speech among a list of countries lacking democracy. He didn't go into any detail on the stalemate in the dispute over the North's nuclear ambitions.
"I believe that the U.S. position on North Korea will remain unchanged," Paik Hak-soon, a research fellow at South Korea's Sejong Institute, said after the speech.
Peter Beck, director for Northeast Asia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said Bush appeared to be more restrained about North Korea than he has in the past. Four years ago, Bush branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" including Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Bush's remarks on China were also relatively soft, urging Americans to boost their competitiveness in response to a rising China instead of criticizing Beijing for unfair trade practices as his administration frequently does.
In Jakarta, however, Indonesia's foreign minister said the speech raised doubts about Washington's policy in Iraq.
"We do not see an exit strategy about when and how the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq," Hassan Wirajuda said when asked to comment on the address. "Before a total victory, America will not withdraw. We see this as a dilemma for them."
In the speech, Bush rejected calls for an early troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying he had a "clear plan for victory."
Bush's speech came less than a week after Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, won parliamentary elections. Bush noted the election in his speech: "Now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace."
Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk offered to renew a cease-fire to ease international concerns over the radical movement's triumph, but he rejected the call to disarm and recognize Israel.
"These conditions cannot be accepted and the U.S. president should accept the reality, because the Palestinian people have exercised their democratic choice, with mechanisms that are basically Western, and they chose Hamas," Abu Marzouk told The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria.
Bush "should deal with Hamas as it is," he said.