WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that President George W. Bush's administration's popularity in the Arab world was "not very great" but that it will eventually gain their respect.
"Perhaps it is not popular in the Middle East to say that it is time for the people of the Middle East to live in freedom, not in tyranny," Rice said in an interview with AFP.
"Perhaps it is not always popular to be a fierce defender of Israel's right to defend itself but at the same time a fierce defender of the Palestinians' right to live in their own state.
"And so perhaps that is why in some places, the popularity of the administration or of our policies has not been very great. But it would simply be wrong to say that that is a blanket statement of the world," the chief US diplomat added.
American popularity in the Arab world has seen a steady decline in the wake of the US-led "war on terror," despite an initial surge of sympathy in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC.
"I understand that a lot of the history between the US and the Arab world is one that Arabs look to as a time of humiliation and of lack of respect.
"That did not start with President Bush and it will not merely end with President Bush," Rice said.
"But overtime I think that the fact that America has stood for the Arab world and for the Arabs to have the same rights and the same ability to live in freedom as we have, that that will ultimately be respected."
The chief US diplomat was surprised when AFP, like other media outlets, continued to ask her about the wave of popular Arab support for the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush during his recent visit to Baghdad.
"Do you really think in 10 years anybody will remember this incident?," Rice asked.
"What matters is the US liberated the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein .... and that he has been replaced with an Iraq that will not attack its neighbors and will not seek weapons of mass destruction and will be the first multi-ethnic multi-confessional democracy in the center of the Arab world."
"And that is going to change the face of the Middle East and that is what will matter," Rice added.
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