Friends Again, Europeans Offer Bush Support on Iraq
Feb 22, 3:30 PM (ET)
By Mark John and John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Bush won support from European allies, including Iraq war opponents, to train Iraq's security forces and help rebuild the country at summits on Tuesday that showcased refound transatlantic amity.
But U.S.-European differences over China and Iran surfaced, with Bush voicing concern at European Union plans to end an arms embargo on Beijing and France pressing Washington to offer Tehran incentives to curb its nuclear program.
Bush said the idea that he was preparing to strike Iran over its nuclear ambitions was "ridiculous" and endorsed EU efforts to engage Tehran diplomatically, but he quickly added that all options remained open.
Another sour note came as France and Germany -- Europe's fiercest critics of the U.S.-led war in Iraq -- renewed calls for a reform of transatlantic relations that would give greater weight to the EU as the key U.S. partner, challenging the primacy Washington accords to NATO, which it founded in 1949 and still dominates.
Bush sidestepped a question on what some in Washington see as attempts to subvert the North Atlantic alliance, saying he looked forward to working with both the EU and NATO.
"There should be no doubt in your mind that we want the European project to succeed," he told a news conference in Brussels after meeting leaders of the 25-nation EU.
NATO REMAINS CENTRAL
Nevertheless, he said after a NATO summit earlier in the day that the Cold War defense alliance remained the central security organization binding Europe and the United States.
"It is a relationship that ... has worked in the past and is adjusting so that it works in the future," he told a news conference at the 26-nation alliance's headquarters.
French President Jacques Chirac said he sensed in talks with Bush on Monday night that the U.S. leader understood what he called the new European reality, in which the EU was taking a more prominent global role, including in defense.
"Europe and the United States are real partners. So we need to dialogue and listen to each other more," he told the summit.
"We must also, as the German chancellor has underlined, continue to take account of the changes that have occurred on the European continent," Chirac said.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer trumpeted the agreement of all 26 allies to make some contribution to the Iraq training mission as a sign of the alliance's rediscovered unity.
But that boast masked wide divergence in the level of help on offer. France, the most virulent European critic of the war, agreed for just one of its officers at NATO headquarters to help coordinate offers of equipment to the Iraqi military.
Asked if he was satisfied with such token contributions, Bush shrugged: "Every contribution helps."
The United States is to provide around 60 trainers out of a total close to 160. France, Germany and Belgium remain adamant that their personnel not serve inside Iraq.
Bush's carefully scripted visit was meant to highlight common purpose with Europe in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan and spreading democracy in the Middle East.
EU SUPPORT IN IRAQ
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, current EU president, said the United States and the EU had proposed a joint conference to rally international efforts to rebuild Iraq.
The EU has also offered to train Iraqi police and judges and help writing a constitution for the country's first democratically elected government.
Bush voiced worries that EU plans to end a ban on arms sales to China could change the balance with Taiwan, which Washington is committed to defend, but hinted he might accept EU assurances that it would not lead to dangerous technology transfers.
He said European leaders would have to "sell" such assurances to a skeptical U.S. Congress, which has threatened to curtail military technology sharing with Europe over the issue.
Earlier, Bush met Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who told NATO leaders his newly democratic country's long-term aim was to join the alliance and the EU.
Bush reaffirmed that NATO's door would stay open to all European democracies but gave no target date for Ukrainian membership, a potential red flag to Russia.
Bush repeated the concerns he had voiced on the first day of his visit about the direction of Russia's democracy and said he would take those worries to President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Slovakia on Thursday.
In a retort, Putin told Slovak media Russia would pursue democratic change on its own and would not allow the issue to be used by other countries for their foreign policy goals.
Bush dined on Monday with Chirac in a clear effort to put divisions behind them and seek common ground.
Chirac said he had urged Bush to help France, Britain and Germany in negotiations on Iran's nuclear program by backing Tehran's bid for World Trade Organization membership and allowing civil aircraft engine sales.
The U.S. leader has supported the EU diplomatic initiative but given no hint that Washington is willing to offer any such incentive. On Monday, he listed a string of other demands on Tehran including ending support for anti-Israeli militants and allowing greater political freedom.