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Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

Bush says U.S., EU reunited over Iraq

President pushes for increased NATO involvement in region

June 27, 2004

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— President Bush asserted Saturday that the bitterness over Iraq among European allies was "over" and that NATO had a responsibility to do more to help the fledgling government that will assume limited authority in Baghdad on Wednesday.

"I think the bitter differences of the war are over," Bush said at a news conference after a three-hour summit between the United States and the 25-member European Union. "Some people didn't agree with the decision that I made, and others made as well. But we all agree that a democratic Iraq, a peaceful Iraq ... is in all our benefit."

The EU was represented by Romano Prodi -- president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm -- and Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Anti-war protesters forced a 30-minute delay in Bush's news conference with Ahern and Prodi -- a symbolic victory over a president who prizes punctuality. Bush had to wait while the White House press corps was driven in circles on double-decker buses because thousands of opponents of the Iraq war had blocked miles of nearby roads.

At the news conference at the Renaissance-era Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Ahern said discussions included ways the countries could "best work together to support the people of Iraq as they start the process of building a sovereign, secure and democratic country."

The EU issued a statement promising "full and sustained support" for Iraq's incoming interim government. The bloc did not announce any specific pledge of assistance or relief from the debts of the previous regime.

Thousands of demonstrators marched to the area around the castle, protesting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the handling of suspected terrorists and calling for an end to U.S. military flights though Shannon Airport, a refueling point in Ireland used by thousands of U.S. troops each month.

After the news conference, Bush flew to Turkey for a NATO summit that will be dominated by a request from the new Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, for "urgent help" training security forces. Key NATO members had resisted Bush's call to train Iraqi troops, but NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said ambassadors had "reached an initial agreement to respond positively to the request of the Iraqi interim government for assistance with the training of its security forces."

One of the tenser moments in the summit came when the European leaders condemned abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. "I told them both I was sick with what happened inside that prison," Bush said. "So were the American citizens. The action of those troops did not reflect what we think. And it did harm. It did harm, because there are people in Ireland and elsewhere that said this isn't the America we know."

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