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IN THE NEWS - Bush Returns From Mideast, Turns Attention to a Weakening Economy

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Bush returned this week from an eight-day trip to the Middle East. It was his most extensive travel there in his seven years as president, with one year left in office.

President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah during an arrival ceremony at the international airport near Riyadh
President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah during an arrival ceremony at the international airport near Riyadh

The trip included stops in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It began with the first visit of his presidency to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Mister Bush urged greater progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Throughout the trip, he expressed concern about Iran's nuclear plans. He also called for more democratic reforms in the Middle East.

After meeting with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, the president voiced concerns about the effects of high oil prices on the American economy. He called on OPEC to put more oil on the world market.

But the Saudi oil minister said his country would increase production only if market conditions provide a reason.

As the president visited Saudi Arabia, his administration officially informed Congress of a planned weapons sale to that country. The offer involves one hundred twenty million dollars worth of technology for nine hundred satellite-guided bombs.

Some American lawmakers have questioned the sale but Congress appears unlikely to block it. The offer is part of a plan announced last year that could lead to twenty billion dollars in sales of weapons to Persian Gulf countries.

The president did not visit Iraq, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit on Tuesday. She praised the Iraqi government for agreeing to permit members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to reclaim government jobs.

This is one of several steps that the Bush administration has been urging the Iraqi government to take. The aim is to ease tensions between minority Sunnis and majority Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

The top American military commander in Iraq recently reported a sixty percent drop in attacks in that country since June. General David Petraeus warned that economic improvement must follow, or the violence could get worse again.

President Bush says the drop in violence should make it possible to withdraw twenty thousand troops by the middle of this year. But as some American troops return from Iraq, others are getting ready for Afghanistan.

Mister Bush this week approved the deployment of more than three thousand Marines to Afghanistan. They will bring the number of American troops there to about thirty thousand. The added forces will join the NATO-led security operation in southern Afghanistan. They will also help train the Afghan army and police.

Opposition to the war in Iraq influenced congressional elections in two thousand six. But in this presidential election year, studies show Americans growing more concerned about the economy than the war. On Friday, President Bush called on Congress to approve a one hundred forty-five billion dollar economic growth plan as soon as possible.

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

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