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Bush Visits U.A.E., Continues Push for Mideast Peace

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And Michele, we'll just start with you. Yesterday, the president gave a lecture on democracy in Abu Dhabi, but Iran seems to have been the main focus of his talk. Yesterday, he called Iran the world's leading state sponsor of terror.

P: Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States 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.

MONTAGNE: And what response does the president hope to get from rhetoric that's anti-Iran?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, the president - he's said a lot these things before, but it was doing it here, so close to Iran, that was to send a signal that he's still worried about Iran and he wants this region to pay attention to it.

MONTAGNE: How important is the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. strategy against Iran?

KELEMEN: Dubai also is - it's interesting because this is also sort of a listening post for the State Department on Iran. They've beefed up the embassy here to have more Iran experts because there's such a big, not only trade, but a lot of Iranians who live here.

MONTAGNE: And turning to you, Ivan, you've been spending time talking to folks there in the Emirates, you know, on the street. What's their response both officially and unofficially to the idea that Iran is a threat?

IVAN WATSON: Well, Renee, I think that officials in the UAE will be, to some degree, reassured. They tell me, in confidence, that they are worried about Iran. One UAE official says that he believes, in fact, that Iran is working on a nuclear program. But at the same time, they blame the Bush administration's policies and what they say are mistakes in the region for setting up a situation that Iran has capitalized on, as one political analyst I talked to put it. He said that President Bush was only half-right in his speech yesterday. He was correct in assessing the Iranian threat to small, wealthy Arab oil kingdoms like the United Arab Emirates, but he said that that threat is the product of America's mishandling of the region over the past seven years.

MONTAGNE: Generally, what is the response to President Bush's visit?

WATSON: Well, he's pretty unpopular here among Emiraties, even though...

MONTAGNE: Although it's not traditionally anti-U.S. there.

WATSON: And in addition to that, though, the rulers have unrolled the red carpet. They've showed President Bush everything from tents out in the desert to prize hunting falcons to a future community that's supposed to be carbon-free. And they have declared this a national holiday in Dubai. They've stopped all traffic in and out of that city as a security precaution, and that has prompted some residents to make the somewhat tongue-and-cheek congratulation to each other, Happy Bush Day - an example of local Emirate humor.

MONTAGNE: That was NPR's Ivan Watson and Michele Kelemen, both speaking to us from the United Arab Emirates. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.
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