Published February 23, 2005
BRUSSELS, Belgium – President Bush scolded Russia for backsliding on democracy Monday and dined on lobster risotto and filet of beef with French President Jacques Chirac (search ).
Three days before seeing Vladimir Putin (search) in Slovakia, Bush admonished the Russian leader to "renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law." Putin has raised alarms in the West by consolidating power, rolling back democratic reforms and curbing press and political freedoms.
Bush said the United States and all European countries "should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia." The president suggested that Moscow's entry in the World Trade Organization (search) could hinge on whether it changes course.
"I've got a good relationship with Vladimir; I intend to keep it that way," Bush told reporters during a photo opportunity with Chirac. "But as well, I intend to remind him that if his interests lie West, that we share values ... and those values are important."
Bush opened his discussions with a gesture of reconciliation toward disgruntled allies, hosting the elegant dinner for Chirac, the harshest critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"I'm looking for a good cowboy," Bush joshed when a reporter asked if relations had improved to the point where Chirac might receive an invitation to the president's Texas ranch. Chirac said U.S.-French relations have been excellent for 200 years and the war had not changed that.
Despite the cordial meeting, Bush told Chirac the United States adamantly opposes Europe's plans to lift its 15-year arms embargo against China.
Europe seemed eager for Bush's charm offensive after bitter divisions over global climate control, Iraq and other problems. Dozens of world leaders were hurrying to Brussels for twin summits Tuesday at NATO and the European Union. European officials have complained Bush did not listen to them during his first term, and they wanted to see if he has changed.
About 4,000 people registered their unhappiness in a noisy protest outside the U.S. Embassy as Bush met with Chirac. The demonstrators came from a coalition of 88 environmental, human rights, peace and other groups opposed to Bush's policies.
Previewing two issues on Tuesday's agenda, Bush told Syria to get out of Lebanon and demanded that Iran stop its suspected nuclear weapons program. Bush did not rule out using military force in Iran, saying all options remain on the table. But, addressing widespread concerns in Europe that Iran is the next U.S. target after Iraq, Bush said: "Iran is ... different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy."
Eye on Iraq and Beyond
In the keynote address of his five-day trip, Bush called the rift with Europe over Iraq a "passing disagreement of governments" and urged greater trans-Atlantic cooperation, including more support for the new Iraqi government.
"Our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe — and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us," Bush said.
After a closed-door meeting, Chirac and Bush told reporters they were committed to patching up differences and restoring good relations despite their disagreement over the war in Iraq.
"As past debates fade, and great duties become clear, let us begin a new era of trans-Atlantic unity," Bush said in his speech.
"The Iraqi people have earned our respect," by going to the polls amid constant threat of death on Jan. 30, Bush said, receiving a round of applause.
Noting that while some European countries joined the coalition in Iraq's liberation and some did not, Bush said "all of us recognize courage when we see it and we saw it in the Iraqi people."
Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who introduced Bush, said the U.S.-led invasion was divisive, but with problems in Africa and other parts of the world, "It makes little sense arguing about who was right."
On Monday, EU foreign ministers decided to open a Baghdad office to coordinate the training of more than 700 Iraqi judges and prosecutors. The office will be the first EU representation in Iraq since the war, and European officials said it reflects their willingness to take on a more active rebuilding role and help smooth relations with Bush.
Peace in the Middle East
The site for Bush's speech was the Concert Noble, a 19th-century government building used for banquets and meetings.
"Our greatest opportunity, and our immediate goal, is peace in the Middle East," said Bush, who supports a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel. "We also know that a free and peaceful Palestine can add to the momentum of reform throughout the broader Middle East."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Cabinet on Sunday gave final approval to a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a revised route for the West Bank separation barrier that would move Israel's border closer to that of its original frontier. Israel on Monday began to release a first wave of 500 Palestinian security prisoners, fulfilling a promise made at an Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting in Egypt earlier this month, where leaders declared an end to four years of bloodshed.
"After many false starts and dashed hopes and stolen lives, a settlement of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is now within reach," the president continued, saying America and Europe have made a "moral commitment" to seeing those two independent states come to fruition. "We're determined to seek two democratic states — Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
He had pointed advice for two pivotal U.S. allies in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
"The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future," Bush said, urging greater moves toward giving Saudis more political freedom.
"The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," Bush said.
Before the speech, the president made a courtesy call on King Albert II and Queen Paola and Verhofstadt.
Bush attends meetings of both the European Union and NATO on Tuesday, visits Germany on Wednesday and goes to Slovakia on Thursday. In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said he regretted the rift that has widened between some European countries and the United States over Iraq.
"It was not easy to decide to go to Iraq, to Afghanistan ... but reality shows that it was the right decision at the right time," Dzurinda said, refusing to budge in his support of Washington.
In calling for more "tangible" support for Iraq, Bush said, "All nations now have an interest in the success of a free and democratic Iraq, which will fight terror, be a beacon of freedom, and be a source of true stability in the region."
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.