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Bush Promises To "Sprint To The Finish" In 2008

By David McKeeby

Bush Administration Promises "Sprint to the Finish" in 2008

"I'm going to work hard to the finish," President Bush told White House reporters at an October 17 press conference. "I'm going to sprint to the finish line."

In a series of recent interviews, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mapped out the foreign policy road ahead for 2008, the Bush administration's final year in office.

Keeping Up Momentum In The Mideast Peace Process

Keeping up the momentum from the November 2007 Annapolis Conference will be a top priority, said Rice, and Bush will begin the year with a tour of the Middle East January 8-18 with stops in Israel and the West Bank, as well as Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (See Middle East Peace: A Half-Century of Engagement.)

In a December 20 interview with Germany's Die Zeit, Rice said the United States would spend the year "actively and aggressively" supporting the peace process. Rice added that she saw many challenges ahead as Israelis and Palestinians resume talks with the goal of concluding a peace treaty by the end of 2008.

"I have never known, studied, read about, or participated in a negotiation that wasn't pretty tough at the beginning," Rice told the Associated Press December 12.

In addition, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad will face the additional challenge of using $7.4 billion pledged to the Palestinian Authority at a donors conference in Paris to build the foundation of a future democratic Palestinian state as part of the "two-state solution" envisaged by the Bush administration since 2002.

"The Israeli-Palestinian issue ... is a very big issue," Rice said. "And to leave that in a much better place than it was when we came would, I think, reverberate in many important ways throughout the region."

Continuing Support For Democracy In Lebanon

Rice also identified continued U.S. support for democracy in Lebanon as another leading policy priority in the region, urging countries that came together to support the Annapolis Conference, especially Syria, to join in supporting Lebanon as it continues its recovery from a series of crises, including the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel conflict, assassinations of prominent leaders and political stalemate in electing a new president. (See Lebanon Assistance.)

"All of Lebanon's neighbors need to play a constructive role and encourage all of their allies to let that happen and, in fact, not interfere with it," Rice said. "This is a time of testing for Lebanon, but it's also a test for Lebanon's neighbors, including for Syria."

Building On The Surge In Iraq

In Iraq, 2007 saw a decline in violence in part due to the U.S.-led coalition's "surge strategy," which deployed more than 20,000 additional troops, as well as the "Awakening" of Iraqi tribal leaders in Anbar province and elsewhere, who began taking back their country from the forces of extremism.

Helping the Iraqi government build on these gains with tangible progress toward key reforms and stronger governing institutions will be another top priority for 2008, Rice said. (See Iraq Update.)

"The Iraqis are going to need the support of international partners, they're going to need support in training their forces, they're going to need support in guaranteeing, in effect, their territorial integrity because they live in a difficult neighborhood," Rice said in a December 11 interview with USA Today.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- groups of U.S. soldiers and diplomats dedicated to supporting Iraqi authorities -- have made a difference in Iraq, Rice said, by helping leaders in Baghdad understand local needs and channeling resources to repair and rebuild key infrastructure more effectively and by delivering essential services to area residents. (See related article.)

"I think over the next year, there is a way ahead in Iraq that could build significantly on the improved security situation," Rice said, "to really have the major beginnings of a political renovation in the country."

Halting Nuclear Programs In Iran And North Korea

Yet another challenge, Rice said, will be continuing diplomatic efforts to resolve questions surrounding controversial nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Although the November 2007 release of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) indicating that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has led some critics to downgrade Tehran as a threat, Rice said the country's continued efforts to enrich nuclear fuel and develop missiles concern not only the United States, but also U.N. Security Council partners China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, who with Germany make up the P5+1.

"I've talked to everybody engaged in the P5+1 process and we're continuing to work on a Security Council resolution," Rice said. "We have not had anyone say that ... we should abandon the two-track strategy because of what was in the NIE."

In North Korea, the Six-Party Talks saw a major breakthrough with Pyongyang's February 2007 agreement to shut down and disable nuclear facilities in exchange for humanitarian assistance, the first step toward stabilizing the Korean Peninsula. (See The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.)

The United States will remain committed to working with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea to continue moving the process forward, Rice said.

"I don't think that there are any people in the world who are more isolated than the North Koreans and it would be a very good thing if there could be some sunshine into that world," Rice said.

Other Challenges

Among other U.S. foreign policy challenges in 2008, Rice identified ongoing efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan; resolve the status of Kosovo; and address Russia's concerns over a proposed missile defense system based in Europe.


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