- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

SAVANNAH, Ga. — President Bush said he left the G-8 summit yesterday convinced that the “momentum of freedom” in the Middle East is building and relations with nations critical of the Iraq war have been mended, despite NATO giving little help to secure the country.

“The nations of the G-8 are committed to the success of Iraq’s government, to the defeat of its enemies, and to the future of Iraq as a free and democratic state,” Mr. Bush said at a press conference that closed the three-day summit of the Group of Eight economic powers.

“The defeat of terror worldwide and the success of freedom in Iraq are the challenges of the moment,” he said. “The spread of freedom throughout the broader Middle East is the imperative of our age.”

The G-8 nations Wednesday declared to promote democracy in the Middle East, an endeavor the president has put at the center of his foreign policy doctrine.

The meeting achieved broad agreement on a host of issues among the four nations that contributed troops to the war in Iraq — the U.S., Britain, Italy and Japan, and the four that refused — France, Germany, Russia and Canada.

But Mr. Bush said his hope to get NATO more involved in securing Iraq has been dashed. NATO members France and Germany would not budge on their refusal to contribute their forces to the mostly U.S. and British troops in Iraq.

“I don’t expect more troops from NATO to be offered up. That’s an unrealistic expectation,” Mr. Bush said.

The president has suggested, however, that NATO could help train the Iraqi forces who will eventually take over peacekeeping operations and let U.S. troops return home.

“That will come at the request of the Iraqi government,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said he and French President Jacques Chirac, who worked to turn members of the United Nations against the United States in the buildup to the war, now have “very good relations.”

“We’re united by common values, and therefore it’s an easy place to start conversations,” Mr. Bush said. “And it’s to be expected that nations don’t always agree on every issue, but we do agree in the power of free societies.”

Mr. Bush also tried to dispel the notion that the world was against the U.S. invasion of Iraq just because the United Nations didn’t agree in 2002 to a separate resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force.

“Look, there was obviously a disagreement over whether or not we enforced the demands of the U.N. I fully understand that. But now that’s past,” Mr. Bush said.

Asked by The Washington Times how he responds to those who believe the way he led the war hurt the international standing of the United States, Mr. Bush said he will always “do what it takes to defend us” from terrorists.

Mr. Bush said he felt justified in invading Iraq because the United Nations threatened “serious consequences” when Saddam Hussein failed to disarm and disclose his programs for producing weapons.

“I wanted the United Nations to be a body that had the respect of the world and when it said something, it meant it,” Mr. Bush said. “In my judgment, when a body or a person says ‘face serious consequences,’ you better mean it, otherwise future words ring hollow.”

Despite the dim prospects for NATO involvement in Iraq, the summit did produce some diplomatic successes for Mr. Bush. All the G-8 leaders agreed that the disputes over the Iraq war are in the past, and they are ready to resume friendly relations and cooperation.

Mr. Bush also used his one-on-one contact with the G-8 leaders this week to garner the unanimous support of the United Nations Security Council on the transfer of power to a sovereign, democratic Iraq.

“This [summit] gave us an opportunity of reviewing the major areas of concern to today’s world, to better understand each other, and also to pool our efforts for peace and development and human rights,” Mr. Chirac said.

The G-8 leaders also agreed in principle to roughly follow Mr. Bush’s “road map” to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and presented a united front in not allowing Arab countries to use the lack of a peace deal as an excuse to delay democratic reform.

Mr. Bush also yesterday addressed Justice Department memos that purportedly suggested to the White House that torture could be allowed during the interrogation of captured terrorists.

“What I authorized was staying within U.S. law,” said Mr. Bush, adding that he doesn’t recall seeing the memos that said the Geneva Convention rules don’t apply to terrorists.

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