Bush speech draws criticism on Iraq, climate change

U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address failed to stir much support Wednesday in Asia, where many saw it as evidence he has been politically weakened by the war in Iraq.

Bush's pledge to slash domestic gasoline consumption by 20 percent in a decade won some sympathy with environmentalists as a welcome nod to concerns over climate change, though some criticized the proposal as too limited.

In Japan, a vocal supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, critics saw little evidence of new thinking that would salvage the country from continued sectarian strife. Bush is pushing to add 21,000 U.S. troops to forces there.

The speech even got a stinging rebuke from Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma an unusual move by the top U.S. ally in East Asia and host to 50,000 American troops.

"President Bush's decision to enter the war against Iraq, based on the assumption that the weapons of mass destruction existed, was a mistake," Kyuma told reporters when asked about the speech at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

Despite Washington's recent decision to boost its troop dispatch in Iraq, Japan will not hastily decide how much longer it will support the international reconstruction efforts in the region, he said.

Japan pulled its 600 non-combat troops out of southern Iraq last year, but still offers humanitarian air support.

"The rhetoric itself is not so persuasive right now," said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute in Tokyo. "I don't see any sense of urgency to do something in Iraq, a different approach."

The war's critics were even harsher. In Pakistan, a lawmaker from a conservative religious alliance opposed to U.S. policies in the region rejected Bush's plans for Iraq and demanded that America withdraw its forces from both Muslim nations.

"His speech will not be beneficial for peace in the world," said Liaqat Baluch, a prominent figure in Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Forum alliance, which is a strong opposition voice in Pakistan's Parliament.

"Our stand is that Iraq and Afghanistan are sovereign states and America has occupied them with its military power," Baluch said. "These troops should withdraw."

In recognition of rising concerns over climate change and fuel consumption, Bush also asked Congress to aggressively expand the use of alternative fuels, mainly ethanol.

Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, told reporters in Tokyo that Bush's proposals were encouraging.

"I see a growing sense of urgency around the world about climate change ... driven by the impact of climate change already being seen around the world, including in the U.S.," he said.

Don Henry, the executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, rejected Bush's proposal to cut gasoline use by 20 percent by 2017, mostly by replacing the fuel with ethanol and through voluntary fuel efficiency improvements from the automotive industry, reports AP.

"We find the president's actions to tackle climate change as being profoundly weak, although at long last the President is acknowledging that the issue is a serious challenge," he said.

Australia is currently suffering its worst drought on record, and higher than average temperatures have fueled massive wildfires across the nation's southeast that razed several homes and charred more than 1 million hectares (4,000 square miles) of forests and farmland.

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