WASHINGTON – While much of Europe has little good to say about President Bush, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (search) praised him Wednesday for just the sort of talk that annoys some of Italy's neighbors.
"President Bush tells me and all of the others always what's in his mind," Berlusconi said following a one-hour Oval Office meeting with Bush. "And it is very positive that 'yes' means really 'yes' to him, and 'no' means 'no."'
Berlusconi spoke through a translator.
Berlusconi is one of Bush's most supportive friends in Europe, a rare continental ally willing to send significant numbers of troops to Iraq. Bush thanked the Italians for that, and for a similar commitment in postwar Afghanistan. He also praised Berlusconi as a friend and confidant.
"I want to thank the prime minister for his understanding about the need for the free world to succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said. "He's the kind of man, when he gives you his word, he keeps his word, which is the sign of an impressive, strong leader."
In recent AP-Ipsos polling, about four in 10 Italians said they had a favorable view of Bush, higher than the percentage of Britons, French, Germans or Spaniards who felt that way. A majority in each of the European countries polled said they were disappointed by Bush's re-election.
The U.S. rift with longtime allies France and Germany is the most serious in years, and relations with Spain have been particularly frosty since then-Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (search) withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq in April.
Bush pledged soon after his re-election victory that he would work to "deepen our trans-Atlantic ties with the nations of Europe." He plans a trip to Europe in February.
Last week, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to mend European fences with a trip to Bulgaria, Belgium and the Netherlands.
"We're reaching out to Europe, and we hope that Europe will reach out to us," Powell said in Brussels.
Berlusconi, at least, reached back Wednesday.
"I want to reassure President Bush that we'll do any possible accord to strengthen the relationship between the United States of America and Europe," he said. "Because I agree with him, the West is only one."
Great Britain is the only European nation with more troops in Iraq than Italy. As of mid-October, the British had 8,500 troops there to Italy's 3,000. Other European or eastern European countries with 500 or more troops committed to the U.S.-led coalition are Poland, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Romania and Denmark.
Italy's participation comes at some cost to Berlusconi at home, where the Iraq war is highly unpopular.
Berlusconi's one-day trip to Washington came a few days after the conservative media baron was acquitted on corruption charges that date from before he entered politics. He had been accused of bribing judges.
Berlusconi has long said he was the victim of left-wing prosecutors. His coalition, formed in June 2001, has survived longer than any other government in Italy since World War II.