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IN THE NEWS - Fixing Iraq -- by Facing Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as Well?

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Middle East was very much in the news this week. These were a few of the developments:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country was ready to take the final step in its nuclear program. He did not say what that would be. But he said Iran would celebrate its right to nuclear technology by March, the end of the Iranian year.

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear energy. But enriched uranium could also be used for bombs.

Iran refused a demand by the United Nations Security Council to halt its enrichment activities by the end of August. But Russia and China have been rejecting restrictions proposed by the United States and its European allies to punish Iran.

The Bush administration also accuses Iran of inciting violence in Iraq -- another charge that Iranian officials deny.

In Washington, some Democratic lawmakers have called for talks with both Iran and Syria. They say it could help the situation in Iraq.

The newly elected Democratic majority will take control of Congress in January. Already there have been proposals to urge the president to begin removing some troops from Iraq within six months.

More than two thousand eight hundred American service members have been killed since the war began in two thousand three.

On Monday, President Bush met with members of the Iraq Study Group. The group is led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Representative Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.

The ten-member group is to give advice about what to do in Iraq. The members have talked to many people and made several trips to Iraq during eight months of research. The group is expected to present its ideas in December.

President Bush says he is open to fresh ideas. But he has said he does not support pulling out troops without a victory. Victory is defined as an Iraq that can take care of itself and also be an ally in the war on terror.

The president's closest ally on Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, appeared Tuesday before the Iraq Study Group by video link.

Earlier, in a foreign policy speech, he proposed a "'whole Middle East' strategy" to unite moderate Arabs and Muslims in a push for peace.

Efforts would start with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, followed by Lebanon and Iraq. The aim is to ease what he called the pressure points in the Middle East.

Mister Blair accused Iran of using these pressure points to stop Middle East peace efforts. He has said for some time that the best way to end the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is with help from nations such as Iran and Syria.

Also this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged an end to the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. He met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and diplomats from the so-called Middle East quartet. The four are the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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