ROME – President Bush (search), honoring allied sacrifices of World War II (search), appealed to a new generation of Europeans and Americans on Saturday to pull together on Iraq, saying the war against terror "is the challenge of our time."
The president spoke at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (search), one of his strongest allies in Iraq. Yet, Bush's itinerary in Italy — and later in France — represented a fresh reminder of the divisions on this side of the Atlantic.
In France, Bush will encounter one of his fiercest critics on Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac (search).
Bush said bitter differences over the war in Iraq are being dissolved into a "spirit of unity."
Bush brushed off big demonstrations in Rome against his visit. "Democracy's a beautiful thing," he said. " I am pleased to be in a country where people are allowed to express their opinion. I believe the world understands the importance of a free Iraq emerging in the Middle East."
Acknowledging differences among allies over the war, Bush said, "Now the world understands the importance of working with Iraqis" to encourage the development of a free society.
Midway through a quick tour of Europe to honor historic World War II success and sacrifice, Bush began his day in Rome with a handshake and meeting with Berlusconi at a posh villa overlooking the capital. The meeting was carefully choreographed to provide balance to Bush's meeting later with Chirac.
The White House also used Berlusconi as a counterweight to Bush's meeting Friday with another war opponent, Pope John Paul II.
Berlusconi recalled America's sacrifices in World War II and pledged that Italy would would stand with the United States and keep soldiers in Iraq. He noted that Italian troops were trying to keep peace in Iraq, much as they have done in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
"If anyone were to think that it would be advisable to withdraw troops from Iraq," Berlusconi said, "then we would have to do the same from all the other countries where we have our troops. And we think that is the opposite of what we should to to secure the peace.
Bush said the West was at a "turning point in history" akin to the struggle against communism after World War II.
"The free world could have either yielded to communism or stood up to communism right after World War II, and fortunately we stood up against communism," Bush said. "Now Europe is free whole and peaceful, and we have the same issue today.
"The fundamental question is will we hold the line and hold our values and work to spread democracy, or will we yield to terrorism and resentment and hatered," Bush said.
"This is a turning point in history, it's an important moment," the president said.
Berlusconi said Italy was working to assure that Europe works with the United States in fighting terrorism.
"Only through joint action will we succeed in fighting this recent war, the war caused by the terror attacks. We can win together, we must together, we will win together."
Rome was calm and largely empty Saturday, a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting the war in Iraq and Bush's visit marched in the city where streets were sealed off and heavily guarded by anti-riot police officers. Many Romans, fearing chaos, had left town for the weekend, although a heavy police presence was still deployed Saturday at Berlusconi's downtown residence.
As they have done each time Bush and Chirac meet, Bush and his advisers said the United States wanted to put past disputes behind the two allies.
"Friends can disagree," Bush said in an interview before he left for his three-day European trip.
The French have contributed steadily to U.S. operations in Afghanistan, and both the United States and France have military and other interests in Haiti and Ivory Coast.
As the United States seeks a U.N. resolution on Iraq that could clear the way for other nations to send troops, France is among nations that have been moving more cautiously than Bush wants.
France, which has a Security Council veto, was unsatisfied with the revised resolution offered by the United States and Britain and wanted more changes and ideas from Iraq's interim leaders and the U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Chirac said Wednesday the revised resolution was "a good basis for discussion" but needs improvement, "to affirm and confirm the full sovereignty of the Iraqi government" especially regarding the military.