Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said the US could not continue its present course if it wanted to secure peace in the region. ‘There is a need for a change in US policy toward reactivating the peace process and achieving progress that saves the bloodshed of innocent victims and ends Israel’s heavy-handed policies toward Palestinians.’

Bush won about 51 per cent of the popular vote and at least 274 electoral college votes out of a possible 538, to beat Democrat challenger John Kerry. The election saw a record voter turnout of about 120 million, which gave Bush the largest popular mandate in US history. Bush’s position was further strengthened by increased Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Palestinian Authority envoy to France Leila Shahid said news of Bush’s victory ‘worried’ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who, as MEED went to press, was in intensive care in a Paris hospital. ‘I fear they will see the vote as validating their policy in the Middle East,’ she said.

Senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said Bush’s win was a ‘victory in the relentless fight against terrorism’. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom said: ‘There is no doubt that there was a serious chemistry [between Bush and Sharon], and Bush’s friendliness was very great.’

Some governments expressed fears that four more years of the hawkish policies that characterised Bush’s first term would increase, rather than ease, regional tension. Iranian Foreign Affairs Committee deputy speaker Mohammad Mohammadi said the US was headed for ‘international and economic ruin unless Bush is more careful in his second term’. But Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an adviser to President Khatami, said a Bush victory was ‘preferable’ despite his ‘wrong policies’. In Syria, Imad Shuaibi, a political science professor at Damascus University, predicted ‘four years of nightmare’.

However, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary Jack Straw said President Bush’s re-election gave the world the chance to make new progress on Middle East peace, adding that it was ‘inconceivable’ that the US would try to attack Iran. ‘I don’t see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop,’ he said.

In his victory speech, Bush said the US would ‘help the emerging democracies of Afghanistan and Iraq to grow in strength and freedom’.