WASHINGTON– As the United States carries out the terms of its new status-of-forces agreement with Iraq, it has the opportunity to successfully conclude the American effort in Iraq and gain a long-term democratic partner in the Middle East, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said today. Hadley, who is slated to be succeeded by retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones when President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20, gave his assessment of the state of national security in a speech to The Center for Strategic and International Studies here.

“Today, violence is down in Iraq,” he said. “The Iraqi people govern themselves under one of the most progressive constitutions in the Middle East. And, for the first time in the region’s history, Sunni, Shiia and Kurds are working together within a democratic framework to build a more hopeful future for their country.”

Hadley noted that U.S. forces will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011 under the status-of-forces agreement. As the United States implements the agreement, it forms a critical long-term ally in the Middle East, he said.

“Together, a democratic Iraq, a free Lebanon, and a democratic Palestinian state can be the keys to a transformed and more hopeful Middle East,” he said.

In Afghanistan, Hadley said, America is helping people there “recover from years of tyranny under the Taliban – and build a more hopeful future of freedom.” He noted that, due to U.S. and NATO efforts, Afghanistan has a new democratic constitution, an elected parliament and president, more than 6 million children in school, many more paved roads, and a growing military of 80,000 troops.

Afghanistan will be “an early challenge” for the Obama administration, Hadley said, as will Pakistan, where Islamic extremists flow back and forth from Afghanistan. “Stabilizing Pakistan must be a first priority of the new administration – as it has been one of ours,” he said.

Hadley called Iran “the biggest challenge” in the Middle East region for the next administration. “Negotiations with Iran, as some have proposed, without leverage on Iran, will not produce a change in Iranian behavior or advance U.S. interests,” he said.

Hadley said President George W. Bush’s foreign policy rejected “false choices” between “realistic and idealistic” policies.

“We are engaged in a great ideological struggle. And to prevail, we must counter the terrorists’ dark ideology with a more hopeful alternative,” he said.

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