Abu Dhabi: US President George W. Bush's speech was welcomed on Sunday by prominent officials.

Mohammad Kanoo, a leading businessman, said that Bush's visit and speech in the UAE "can only be a positive step forward for relations between the two countries.

"By establishing clear and smooth communications, we can only reduce tension, increase our understanding of each other's position and reduce the chance of misunderstanding. For the first time we are able to interact directly with the US President in the UAE."

He said: "We encourage future presidents to visit so that our positions can be made far clearer at all levels."

On the timing of the US President's visit, Kanoo said: "While it may be true that Bush's visit is coming towards the twilight of his presidency, it is still important that our views are exchanged and the friendship extended even further between our countries."

On Iran, he said that Tehran was on everyone's minds in the region and we must focus on the overall relationship with our neighbour Iran.

He said the UAE was in an ideal position to continue to act as a broker for dialogue between the US and Iran.

Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, director-general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies, said Iran with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office posed a threat to the region.

He called on Israel to adopt the Saudi peace plan saying: "Now is the right time for peace and not tomorrow. The Israelis will be committing suicide if they do not go for peace now.

Dr Al Suwaidi said terrorism is a product of what the Israelis commit in the occupied territories, and urged the entire Arab world from Morocco to Oman to denounce what is happening in the occupied lands.

Most residents, however, are sceptical about President Bush's visit.

While some say the US President is here to improve the face of his party foreseeing the upcoming elections, others say his visit is futile and will not make much difference to the growing tensions in the region.

"Political victory in the Middle East is what Bush seeks in order to ensure wider popularity for Republicans in the US presidential elections, " according to Charbel T, a Lebanese senior account executive.

"Bush's visit comes as the US administration wants to send a strong message of commitment to its allies in the region. Israel being the top priority as the security of the Jewish state was one of the hottest topics on the President's agenda.

"The visit to the UAE is sending a message of support to the economic renaissance of the country", he added.

- With additional inputs from Dina El Shammaa and Rayessa Absal, Staff Reporters