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The World Reacts

News Reports Emphasize Religious Tone of Inaugural Speech

Media and Analysts Also Note Many References to 'Freedom'

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A23

AMSTERDAM, Jan. 20 -- As foreign governments pondered their reactions to President Bush's inaugural speech Thursday, newspapers around the world reported it with particular emphasis on the religious tone and Bush's 27 references to "freedom" in the United States and abroad.

Bush painted a vision of "an America that propagates freedom, democracy and prosperity around the world," an article on the Web site of the French newspaper Liberation said. "The problem is that with this speech, one has the impression of having heard it a thousand times, and no longer believing it."

Travelers and commuters at London's Victoria train station watch news reports on the inauguration. (Adam Butler -- AP)

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It added: "Not all the world strongly wants this 'freedom a l'americaine.' It's only necessary to look at Iraq."

France, which was among the staunchest opponents of the Iraq war, remains critical of the continuing U.S. military presence there despite recent efforts by President Jacques Chirac to mend ties. Chirac is reportedly planning a trip to Washington sometime before Bush makes his next trip to Europe on Feb. 22 -- a trip that will take him to Belgium and Germany, but not France.

The French daily newspaper Le Monde, in its Web site edition, noted that Bush "made several references to God." European leaders normally do not mention religion in their public statements.

In Madrid, the capital of another country opposed to the war, the daily newspaper El Pais used the word "freedom" in English as the first word of its online report and called it "the word most often used by George W. Bush in his inaugural speech."

The newspaper said that Bush "wanted to deliver a conciliatory message to his allies after four years in which the United States' aggressive foreign policy has enjoyed scant support in Europe."

In Britain, the London Times newspaper said: "Although evangelical in tone and florid in its rhetoric, Bush's 20-minute speech appeared to confirm signs that America will adapt a less unilateral foreign policy over the next four years."

In some of the first reaction from world leaders, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, a key Bush ally, told reporters Friday: "He has accumulated experience as a leader of a leading country and a leader of the world for the last four years. I have high hopes that he will continue to actively contribute to world peace and stability under the principle of international cooperation."

Takeshi Igarashi, a professor at Tokyo University and an expert on U.S. politics and diplomacy, said: "It was very clear the speech was from a wartime president. It was more like a speech by a pastor than a president. . . .

"But he didn't mention any actual policies at all. He cried out his ideal but shied away from facing problems that lie there. I actually think he may not have any measures to deal with the issues, that he is lost and still trying to find ways."

In Mexico, some reaction was skeptical. "What I'm hearing and what I'm feeling is 'more of the same,' which in the case of Mexico means 'more of nothing,' " said Gabriel Guerra, a political analyst in Mexico City. "We are not on the list of priorities. We are not even on the radar screen."

Guerra said that despite Bush's public pledges to press the U.S. Congress for immigration reform, Mexico's top foreign policy priority, he expected no substantial action from Bush. "I don't think immigration reform ranks anywhere near his top priorities -- the Middle East, Social Security reform or tax reform," Guerra said.

Agustin Gutierrez Canet, spokesman for Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, was more upbeat about the prospects of immigration changes being enacted during Bush's second term. "We have been observing carefully the interest of President Bush in promoting this agenda," Gutierrez Canet said. "We are optimistic that this agenda will be carried out in the months ahead."

In China, the official New China News Agency reported the speech without comment.

Several hours before the speech, an audio recording was posted on a radical Islamic Web site purporting to be the words of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian who is orchestrating attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces in Iraq. He said that insurgents were winning their struggle against the "tyrant America."

Correspondent Kevin Sullivan in Mexico City and special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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