Bush in Egypt on last leg of ceremonial Middle East tour

US President George Bush, on the last leg of a largely ceremonial tour of the Middle East, was due to meet Egyptian leaders Saturday in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort, reported dpa.

Bush, arriving from Saudi Arabia, was expected to discuss with President Hosny Mubarak a major concern for Arab leaders: the growing influence of Iran against the backdrop of recent violence in Lebanon.

In Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, Bush shared his concerns over the rising influence of Shiite Iran, not only in Lebanon, but also in Iraq.

US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said both countries shared the concern that Iran would be emboldened by recent events in Lebanon.

The US and Saudi Arabia share the view of "condemning what (the Lebanese radical Shiite movement) Hezbollah did."

In Egypt, Bush is likely to hear the same concerns over Iran's "calling the shots" in key Arab questions: Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian issue, Arab diplomatic sources said.

Bush's plan for democracy in the region is unlikely to be high on the agenda of his talks in Egypt.

Bush's initial enthusiasm and what seemed to be a firm commitment to prodding democratic reforms in the Middle East have faded.

Human rights activists in the region have ceased to pin hopes on a strong US backing of pro-democracy movements in the region.

Egypt, a country where democratic reforms lie in tatters, is a strong ally of the US.

Bush is expected to thank Mubarak for his unwavering efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

On the Middle East peace front, most analysts say the prospects for significant progress towards a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians are slim.

With only eight months left in office, Bush is unlikely to achieve a major breakthrough.

On his second trip, and probably his last, to the Middle East, Bush has so far achieved nothing. The trip has been largely ceremonial.

During his talks in Saudi Arabia on Friday, Bush failed to get the oil-rich kingdom to help reduce pressures on oil prices, which are hurting the US economy.

During his January trip to the kingdom, Bush's request for an oil output increase was politely turned down.

During talks over oil on Friday, discussions were "friendly," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said.

"He (Bush) didn't punch any tables or shout at anybody. I think he was satisfied," al-Faisal said.

The Saudis argue that any output increase was unlikely to push prices down.

Last week, a group of Democrats in the US Senate introduced a resolution to block a multimillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia unless the kingdom increases oil production to curb price hikes.

The Saudis will get US assistance in the development of a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes under an agreement that was signed on Friday.

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