SAVANNAH, Ga. – President Bush conceded Thursday that it is unrealistic to expect NATO (search) countries to send more troops to Iraq, but made a parting plea to world powers to do more to guide the Iraqi people to a stable democracy.
"They need our help, and they will have our help," Bush said at the end of a Group of Eight (search) economic summit where European allies expressed resistence to giving NATO an expanded military role.
That means the United States and Britain will continue to provide the bulk of military troops in Iraq for now, although Bush said that over time, "the solution for Iraqi security is going to be provided by the Iraqis."
French President Jacques Chirac (search) said he believed any direct involvement by NATO troops in Iraq held "great risks, including something of a risk of a clash between the Christian West and the Muslim East." Chirac did not rule out a training role, however.
Germany also opposes sending NATO troops to Iraq, although Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Thursday that "we have also made it clear that the decision of the NATO members who are involved in Iraq won't be blocked."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), Bush's strongest ally on Iraq, sought to play down the dispute, saying that strong support earlier this week for a U.N. Security Council resolution "far outweighs any residual disagreement there might be."
At a news conference here concluding three days of talks at the summit on nearby Sea Island (search), Bush said he felt the gathering's biggest accomplishment was the endorsement of his initiative to promote economic and democratic reforms through the Middle East.
"The spread of freedom throughout the Middle East is the imperative of our age," Bush said.
But even here there was dispute. Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) said it was critical that the initiative not lead to "internal interference in the affairs of these countries," voicing a concern raised by some Arab nations who refused invitations to attend the G-8 meeting.
While Iraq and the wider Middle East dominated the summit, the leaders also reached modest agreements on other issues like training 75,000 new peacekeepers to patrol war-torn countries over the next five years and coordinating efforts to find a vaccine against the AIDS virus.
The administration was eager to reach the accords to showcase Bush as a leader able to get things done on the global stage. His Democratic presidential challenger, John Kerry has charged that Bush has alienated many of America's traditional allies.
However, a U.S. drive to gain support to forgive a significant part of Iraq's massive $120 billion in foreign debt faltered, in part because of resistance from countries who think relief for Iraq should go hand-in-hand with more generous debt relief for the world's poorest countries, many of them in Africa.
"How would you explain to these people that in three months we are going to do more for Iraq than we have done in 10 years for the 37 poorest and most indebted countries in the world?" Chirac asked at his closing news conference.
The G-8 leaders did meet with six African leaders on their final day of talks, but global aid groups labeled the discussions a failure because the summit did not come through with any major increases in money for Africa.
"When all's said and done, a lot more was said than done," said Mark Fried of the international aid agency Oxfam.
Four of the countries in the group, the United States, Britain, Italy and Japan, have forces in Iraq. The other four — France, Germany, Russia and Canada — do not, and their leaders gave no sign of changing that.
Bush had hoped to win general approval for a wider role for NATO in Iraq peacekeeping or in the training of Iraqi troops, one that could be refined further at the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, later this month.
But he said: "I don't expect more troops from NATO to be offered up. That's an unrealistic expectation."
In Washington, Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer — who had met the day before in Georgia with the G-8 members — said the new interim government would welcome NATO participation in a multinational force to help maintain security when his government takes over later this month.
To questions about why more nations haven't offered help after the U.N. vote, Bush said: "I know we live in a world where everything's supposed to happen yesterday. But it doesn't work that way."
Overall, Bush called U.S. relations with France "excellent."
Chirac did not mention the dispute over NATO during a photo session with Bush, but spoke instead of how much he had enjoyed the summit, particularly the food.
"I can tell you that over the last few days, this cuisine here in America was certainly on a par with French cuisine," Chirac said.
"He particularly liked the cheeseburger he had yesterday," Bush said.
"It was excellent," Chirac said.
Bush later said he had conveyed Chirac's compliment to the chef. "It's a whole lot better to hear the food is good from Jacques Chirac than from George W. Bush," he said.
Throughout the week, protests against the summit were light. About a dozen people were arrested Thursday when they sat in front of the security gates on the only road leading to the island site, but the numbers who showed up during the week were far below expectations.