WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2007 — -- First Lady Laura Bush is doing her part to raise breast cancer awareness in a part of the world where shining a spotlight on women's issues -- not to mention women's body parts -- can be decidedly dicey.
Bush departs tonight for a week-long tour of the Middle East, where she will visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- all countries that have joined in a partnership with the United States to fight breast cancer.
While there, she also plans to visit U.S. troops in Kuwait.
Some of the highlights of the trip will include:
ABC News' Robin Roberts, who is engaged in a battle with breast cancer, is to accompany Bush on the trip.
The trip comes at a time when the first lady has been taking on a far more public profile on foreign affairs, albeit on very selective issues.
She has been an outspoken critic of the military regime in Burma, also known as Myanmar -- placing phone calls to the U.N. secretary general, speaking out in Congressional testimony, and penning an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal.
The president acknowledged her efforts in his press conference this week. Applauding the courage of the people of Burma in the face of "immense repression," he said: "They do have many friends around the world, including Laura. I'm proud of Laura for all she's done to awaken the conscience of the world to the plight of the Burmese people."
In a briefing this week, Anita McBride, the first lady's chief of staff, told reporters, "Mrs. Bush has the ability and the luxury, frankly, to be able to choose from issues that are important to the president and his administration, to be able to advocate for them."
With popularity ratings far higher than her husband's, Mrs. Bush may also be a more effective ambassador in a region where the war in Iraq has caused many to view the United States unfavorably. Significantly, the trip comes in advance of next month's Mideast peace conference -- though the White House insists it is a scheduling coincidence, albeit a happy one.
"There was no link between the planning of this trip and the event that the president will host later this fall," said McBride. "But obviously, this is a diplomatic effort and a diplomatic trip. This is a shining example of our public diplomacy efforts from the State Department. So although they are not linked, certainly the timing is probably very good."
Mrs. Bush has been a longtime advocate for breast cancer awareness. She first began volunteering with the Komen Foundation 25 years ago in Texas.
"Both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer," said McBride. She "has a personal history" with the disease.