PARIS – President Bush said Friday that Europe and United States must hold firm in Afghanistan and never let it be a base for terrorists again.
In a speech billed by the White House as the centerpiece of his European trip, Bush urged allies to stand by Afghanistan, where the ongoing conflict and redevelopment effort is often overshadowed by the war in Iraq.
One of Bush's main priorities in Europe is asking his hosts to make greater contributions to Afghanistan, both in money and troops.
He applauded France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, for committing additional troops. He said the United States has worked closely with its allies through intelligence and other means to "deny the terror networks safe havens."
In Afghanistan last year, more than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks, the most since the 2001 U.S. invasion ousted the brutal former Taliban regime. Another 1,500 have died this year. Bush flatly called Afghanistan "broke" before his trip.
American, British, Canadian, Dutch and Danish forces are taking on the brunt of the fighting in the more volatile areas of Afghanistan, and eager for help from allies.
Donors ranging from the U.S. to the World Bank pledged more than $21 billion for Afghanistan on Thursday — and they made clear they want their money spent better in a desperately poor country. In opening their pockets yet again, many donors complained about endemic corruption that has bled past donations in a nation where illegal drugs are the mainstay of a broken economy.
Meanwhile, the continued threat from insurgents, and the consequences of fighting them, were spotlighted this week when a U.S. airstrike along Afghanistan's lawless border with Pakistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers under disputed circumstances. The deaths put the United States on the defensive about its priorities and tactics just as first lady Laura Bush was trying to draw attention to small-scale, successful projects in Afghanistan.
The president said another challenge that the world's leaders cannot forget is a "broader battle — the battle of ideas."
Bush said he senses a yearning for freedom in repressed societies and that the aim of U.S. foreign policy is to "advance a more hopeful and broader vision, especially in the Middle East."
He branded terrorists as people "who place no value on life, allow no room for dissent and use terror to apply their harsh ideology on as many people as possible."
The president's comments came during what amounts to a farewell tour of Europe. His presidency ends in January, and the race to replace him is consuming attention at home and abroad.
Bush asserted that he is leaving the state of trans-Atlantic relation in robust shape.
The president said he is seeing the outlines of a "new era of trans-Atlantic unity" in the faces of Europe's current leaders like Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I see a commitment to a powerful and purposeful Europe that advances the values of liberty within its borders and beyond," Bush said in his comments at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The president, echoing the "freedom agenda" that has defined his foreign policy, challenged European allies to export democracy.
He said France and the United States share ideals of tolerance, justice and freedom. The lesson of history, Bush said, is that extending these ideals across the globe is "the only practical and realistic way" to protect the security interests of peaceful nations.
"It's more than just a moral obligation," Bush said.
The president began his day by visiting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. He was to finish it over dinner with Sarkozy at the French president's palace.
The president claimed that relationship between the U.S. and Europe "is the broadest and most vibrant it has ever been."
A few short years ago that clearly wasn't the case. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former French President Jacques Chirac clashed with Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Two of Bush's allies, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, paid a political price for backing Bush on the war, which fractured trans-Atlantic ties.
Bush has spent his second term successfully mending them. But while the Bush administration has joined nations across the globe to try to solve a host of international threats, including North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs, the president's initial go-it-alone reputation set the tone of his presidency.
Before Paris, there was Rome for the president.
The pope took Bush on a rare stroll through the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens on Friday, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.
"Your eminence, you're looking good," Bush told the pope shortly after arriving at the Vatican, launching the leaders' third visit together.
Normally, VIPS are received in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace. That's where Bush had his first meeting with Benedict in June 2007.
But in a gesture of appreciation for the hearty welcome Bush gave him in Washington in April, Benedict welcomed the president and first lady Laura Bush near St. John's Tower in the lush Vatican Gardens.