WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush warned Iran Monday that the United States will "confront those who threaten our troops" and defend its allies and interests in the Gulf.
In his last State of the Union before a hostile, Democratic-led Congress eager for the end of his term next January, Bush also urged Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, embrace political reforms, and "cease your support for terror abroad."
"But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf," he said.
Bush's ability to rally international support against Iran has been diminished by a US Intelligence report that Tehran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Turning his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Bush said, "We are also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president (Mahmoud Abbas) who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security.
"This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year," he said. "The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace."
'What he offered was more of the same'
On Iraq, Bush was in a better position than a year ago, when he implored skeptical Americans to embrace his plan to send thousands more troops to Iraq.
"Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard," he said. "They have not been defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead."
He announced no new troop reductions despite continuing calls from Democrats for a withdrawal timetable, something polls show most Americans want as well.
Bush's seventh State of the Union speech was a chance to set the tone for his waning months in the White House and try to salvage his frayed legacy before he leaves in January 2009.
Sandwiched between Saturday's Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina and Tuesday's Republican contest in Florida, Bush will struggle to make himself heard above the growing din of the 2008 election campaign.
Democratic White House hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama attended the speech but Republican Sen. John McCain was campaigning in Florida where voters will choose their preference for the Republican nominee on Tuesday.
"What he offered was more of the same—a frustrating commitment to the same failed policies that helped turn record surpluses into large deficits, and push a thriving twenty-first century economy to the brink of recession," Clinton said.