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Promoting Democracy Abroad

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said that tyrannies and dictatorships "shelter terrorists and feed resentment" -- in places such as Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden developed his network before the Sept. 11 attacks. There's logic to that, but many counter-terrorism officials worry about home-grown terrorists operating in Western democracies. They point to the bombings on London's transportation system last year, and on Madrid's trains the year before. Those attackers had only an ideological link to al-Qaida.

The president also talked about promoting democracy -- one of the administration's key platforms. Mr. Bush pointed to the relatively successful elections recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he hedged around the elections in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood -- which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization -- started making small political inroads. So too in the Palestinian territories, where Hamas, an organization that has made no secret of the fact that it wants Israel wiped off the map, won elections hands down. In his address, President Bush insisted that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist and repeated that it must disarm and reject terrorism.

The president was equally firm with Iran, saying Tehran was defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and that the U.S. and its allies cannot allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. It was one of the few moments of Tuesday's address that brought both sides of the house to applaud loudly.

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Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.