Bush Urges Democratic Reform in Mideast

A day after Iraq's new interim government claimed power, President Bush said Tuesday that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" and that Islamic countries need not fear the spread of democracy.

Bush cited Turkey as an example of an Islamic country with a secular government that has found a place in the community of democracies.

"In some parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, there is wariness toward democracy, often based on misunderstanding," the president said. "Some people in Muslim cultures identify democracy with the worst of Western popular culture and want no part of it."

He made his remarks here before ending a five-day trip to Ireland and Turkey. His audience at Galatasary University (search) sat silently throughout his remarks.

Bush said nations attending the NATO (search) summit, which closes here on Tuesday, have agreed to work together with nations of the broader Middle East to fight terrorism, control their borders and aid victims of disaster. But he said more action was needed.

"We must strengthen the ties of trust and good will between ourselves and the peoples of the Middle East," Bush said. "And trust and good will come more easily when men and women clear their minds and their hearts of suspicion and prejudice and unreasoned fear."

Outside the summit, police fired tear gas into a group of 1,000 anti-NATO protesters after some of the demonstrators threw rocks at officers. About 23,000 police and soldiers guarded the summit, closing several streets around the summit site and leaders' hotels. Police were investigating a small explosion that injured three people on a plane on the ground at Istanbul airport.

And despite new agreements on helping Iraq with security, there were signs of new strains between the NATO allies.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac (search) said Bush had overstepped by wading into EU's affairs with his call for Turkey's admission to the European Union (search). Chirac said that Bush commenting on Turkish-EU relations was like a French leader commenting on U.S.-Mexican ties.

But on Tuesday, Bush reiterated his backing of Turkey's desire to join the European Union, saying it was important to ease Muslim-Christian tensions.

"Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the `clash of civilizations' as a passing myth of history," Bush said.

Bush has said he believes democracy can flourish in Muslim countries, just as it has in Turkey. He said that supporting freedom and democracy in volatile nations will help secure America and other countries too.

At the same time, Bush raised no objection to new interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search) taking hard-line measures to deal with militants such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), the most wanted man in the country. On Tuesday, Allawi said he will announce emergency measures — steps likely to temporarily curb the kinds of freedoms Bush was advocating for the Middle East.

Bush's Mideast initiative has been criticized by some Arab leaders, who accuse the United States of trying to export its brand of democracy while not doing enough to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Distrust of Bush's intentions by the Arab world deepened after American troops abused Iraqi prisoners and the president backed Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) announced plan for Israel to withdraw from all Gaza settlements and parts of the West Bank.

The White House says Bush's initiative is misunderstood. The administration says it's less a blueprint that seeks to impose an American-style democracy on Arab nations than a collection of ideas to urge reform from the inside out.

Bush launched the effort to promote Mideast reforms last year, and sought to advance it this month when he hosted the Group of Eight (search) summit in Sea Island, Ga.

The G-8 industrialized nations agreed to push the initiative ahead by helping countries in the region create jobs through expanded trade and other measures; pressing for better education and improved technology in Mideast countries; and by advocating human-rights guarantees and "respect for diversity and pluralism" in those nations.

In his speech Tuesday, the last stop on a two-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul, Bush also heralded Monday's transfer of sovereignty in Iraq and NATO's decision to help train Iraqi security forces.

Yet a spate of recent violence has made clear the dangers that remain in Iraq for the United States.

A roadside bomb detonated Tuesday near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad, killing three U.S. service members, an Iraqi national guardsman said.

Al-Jazeera television reported Tuesday that Iraqi militants killed an American soldier, Spc. Keith M. Maupin, who had been held hostage for nearly three months. The report did not say when Maupin was killed.

Militants are also threatening to behead a U.S. Marine, Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, whom they say they kidnapped on Monday.

Three Turkish hostages held since last week have been released, the Turkish foreign ministry said Tuesday.