President Bush says the United Arab Emirates is an important ally in the Middle East, and its government-owned company should be allowed to control shipping operations at some U.S. ports. There's no doubt the United States needs all the support it can get for its policies in the region--the Palestinians have just chosen the extremist group Hamas to run their government, a hostile Iran is suspected of trying create a nuclear arsenal, and the violence in Iraq shows no signs of abating despite three promising rounds of voting. Here is a look at whom the U.S. can count on, whom it is courting and who its enemies are:
First from Among the Allies
Israel: The United States recognized the state shortly after it was established on May 14, 1948, and has been its steadfast supporter since, giving billions in aid and selling the Israeli military modern weaponry. U.S. support for Israel strains U.S. relations with the Islamic states in the Middle East, but also gives Washington an ally in a region vital for its huge energy reserves.
Leaning Toward the U.S. Saudi Arabia: In 1990, during the first Gulf War, the oil-rich nation backed coalition forces led by the U.S. against Iraq. The presence of the U.S. military on Saudi soil, which is home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, antagonized radicals such as Osama bin Laden. While the Saudi ruling family has had cordial relations with Washington, Saudi clerics and money have supported groups that aim to destroy Israel, and some religious schools in the Middle East and Asia that are supported by Saudi donations preach a radical form of Islam. Since 9/11, Saudi support of American interests has prompted attacks against the state by al-Qaida.
United Arab Emirates: Since gaining independence from Britain in 1971, the UAE has used its oil reserves to build one of the most diversified economies in the Middle East. In addition to exporting oil, it is home to banking, finance, tourism and ship repair, and runs port operations in other countries. It is also one of the most open Arab states, with foreigners, many from Asia, making up about 85 percent of its population. The UAE lurched into the news last month when objections were raised to the purchase of shipping operations at some U.S. ports by one of its state-owned companies. Bush defends the deal, noting that the UAE has cooperated with the U.S. in the war on terror, is a port for U.S. Navy ships, including carriers, and holds a strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf at the Strait of Hormuz. All oil shipments from states bordering the gulf, 13 million barrels a day, must use the channel.
Jordan: After fighting two wars with Israel, the country has become one of the moderate states in the Middle East. It signed a formal peace treaty with Israel on Oct. 26, 1994. Without oil reserves, Jordan depends on trade with its neighbors. Because of its treaty with Israel and the assistance it has provided to the U.S. in the Iraq war, al-Qaia has launched repeated attacks in the country. Last November, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi carried out suicide attacks at three luxury hotels that killed 60 people.
In Crisis Iraq: Violence and instability have ruled in the nearly three years since a U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. Democratic elections have been held, but Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite leaders have yet to establish a permanent government. Sectarian violence sparked by the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shiite sites, is ongoing. During the past three years, the U.S. has struggled to keep Iraq's volatile mix of religious and ethnic groups from descending into a civil war.
Palestinian Authority: Last month, elections in the Palestinian territories gave a victory to Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The U.S., Israel and much of the world say they will not deal with terrorists, even if they were legitimately elected, but without foreign aid the Palestinian government and its economy will collapse. Another problem: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that al-Qaida had infiltrated the West Bank and Gaza.
Lebanon: The civil war that erupted among Christian and Muslim groups in 1975 lasted 25 years. At the end of the conflict, Lebanon found itself essentially controlled by neighboring Syria. The Lebanese united to throw out Syria last year after the assassination of a popular political leader, Rafik Hariri. The jubilation over the withdrawal of Syrian troops has been tempered by continued bombings that appear to be the work of pro-Syrian forces.
Problem States Iran: The ruling Muslim clerics support terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and are suspected of sheltering al-Qaida members. New President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Israel should be "wiped off the map, "and makes apocalyptic references to the return of a Shiite heir of the Prophet Muhammad. The U.S. has been called the "Great Satan" since the Islamic revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed shah of Iran in 1979 and took U.S. citizens hostage. Iran is the world's second-largest producer of oil, which gives it powerful economic leverage. Despite its huge oil and natural gas reserves, Iran has embarked on a vigorous nuclear program, which the U.S. and others believe is a front to develop weapons.
Syria: Before the fall of Saddam, there were two Baathist states in the Middle East -- Iraq and Syria. While not as overtly repressive as the Baathist regime in Iraq, Syria under President Bashar Assad has continued the policies of his father, Haffez Assad. Syria uses its support for Hezbollah and the sanctuary it gives to other terrorist groups to influence Middle East developments and enhance its position. Since the second Gulf war, Syria has drawn closer to Iran and allows it to move weapons and militants into Lebanon. It has been accused by the U.S. of allowing terrorists and insurgents to move through its borders into Iraq.