US president begins Bahrain visit

George Bush continues tour of Gulf allies to gain support against Iran.

    Bush addressed troops at US Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, as part of his tour of the region [AFP]

    'Hope' for Iraq
    In Kuwait, Bush told troops at a US military base that "hope is returning to Iraq" because of the troop surge he ordered a year ago, but warned US forces would likely remain in Iraq beyond his presidency.
    Bush maintained his long-held stance that a reduction in force levels will depend on conditions in Iraq, and that he would defer to General David Petraeus, the top US commander, who is scheduled to make a recommendation in March.


    "My attitude is if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me," Bush said.


    "The only thing I can tell you is we're on track for what we've said was going to happen," he said, referring to plans to withdraw some 30,000 troops from Iraq by July.


    While in Bahrain, Bush is expected to hold talks with King Hamad and visit the US Fifth Fleet base.


    Bush's Middle East tour, which started in Israel, will take in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia before ending in Egypt on Wednesday.

    Bahrain protests
    Activists in Bahrain have made it clear that they do not share the government's enthusiasm about Bush's visit to the Gulf archipelago.
    Several political groupings, mainly from the opposition, were due to organise a picket outside the US embassy in Manama after Bush's arrival.
    Ibrahim Sharif, secretary general of the National Democratic Action Association, one of the groups organising the protest, said: "We want to tell the US president that he is not welcome, and that he is not a friend of Arab and Bahraini peoples."
    Sharif charged that the US administration supports "tyrannical regimes" in the Arab world and favours Israel.
    "President Bush praises the Bahraini regime saying it is democratic and reformist... This is just politicians complimenting each other."
    Sharif warned that taking part in or aiding any US military attack against Iran would be fatal for the Bahraini people due to the US military presence on their soil.
    Two protests, approved by authorities, against the US president's visit took place on the eve of Bush's arrival.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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