WASHINGTON – President Bush, trying to build support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism as anti-war protesters marched in Berlin on the eve of his visit, told Europeans Tuesday that Iraq is a menace to them.
"Iraq ought to be on the minds of the German people, and they ought to be on the minds of the American people, because the Iraq government is a dangerous government," Bush told the German television station ARD.
"This is a government that's gassed its own people, this is a government that is not transparent, and this is a government we know wants to develop weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "They may have weapons of mass destruction; we just don't know."
As he tried to win over Europeans in advance of his trip to Germany, France, Italy and Russia beginning Wednesday, Bush sought to make the war against terrorism a matter of self-interest for those nations. He will use an address to the German Parliament on Thursday to underscore the need for continued cooperation against terrorism.
"The best way to secure our homeland, the best way for Italy to be secure, and other countries, is to find these killers, is to hunt for them, is to chase them down," Bush told Italy's RAI television.
He emphasized he has "no military plans on my desk that calls for, that plots out a military operation. I'm looking at all options."
Bush also sought to soften his image among some Europeans as a go-it-alone leader with a distaste for alliances that are inconvenient to him.
"Listen, I believe in alliances," Bush said. "I know America can't win the war on terror alone."
Bush likened his plainspoken style to former President Reagan's demand to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that he tear down the Berlin Wall. "He didn't say tear down a couple of bricks. He said tear the whole thing down. And I guess I tend to speak that way, too," Bush said.
As Bush spoke, as many as 100,000 demonstrators marched peacefully through Berlin to protest any widening of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The German government has 10,000 police in the capital in case of violence during a series of protests scheduled around Bush's 19-hour visit beginning Wednesday evening. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin sent out a message to Americans in Germany cautioning them about the demonstrations.
Some 100 protests are planned across Germany Wednesday and Thursday to coincide with the Bush visit.
"That's good. That's democracy," Bush said of the protests. "See, I love to visit a place that is confident in her freedom, a place where people feel free to express themselves, because that's what I believe in."
Bush stressed strong ties between Europe and the United States, pointing to the $2 trillion in trade between them each year.
Trade became an irritant in trans-Atlantic relations in March when Bush slapped tariffs on imported steel, but Bush defended the decision in the interview with RAI.
"Obviously, I was concerned about what imports were doing to our industry, and under the rules of the WTO, under the guidelines that we've all agreed to, I acted," he said. "I am confident and hope that our European trading partners will also respond within the guidelines" of the World Trade Organization.
The United States also has a trade dispute with Russia over that country's restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry.
Many Europeans are skeptical about America's war on terrorism and its Middle East policy.
A leftist party in Paris called Tuesday for demonstrations against that policy when Bush visits France this weekend. The Workers Struggle party blames the Middle East conflict on Israel and said the country would be unable to continue its offensive without the "military, political and diplomatic support of the United States."
Bush told RAI that he and Europeans "share the same vision" on what each party in the conflict must do to achieve peace.
An umbrella group for dozens of pacifist and anti-globalization organizations calling itself the Axis of Peace — a play on Bush's description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an axis of evil — organized Tuesday's demonstration in Berlin, pledging nonviolence.