- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

NEWMARKET-ON-FURGUS, Ireland — President Bush yesterday declared an end to “bitter differences” with European leaders over the war in Iraq and said NATO has a responsibility to help the people there.

Mr. Bush wrapped up a two-day summit meeting with the European Union on a high note of agreement on many issues, none bigger than commitments to consign opposition to the toppling of Saddam Hussein to the past.

“There is a common interest in a common goal to help Iraq develop a free society,” Mr. Bush said.

The president then flew to Ankara, Turkey, for an overnight stop before continuing on to Istanbul for a two-day meeting with NATO leaders.

Mr. Bush has asked the alliance to help train Iraqi security forces after the transfer of sovereignty Wednesday to the new Iraqi government. The deadline for NATO members to object to the plan came and went yesterday without dissent.

“The document on Iraq passed the deadline without problems,” one NATO official said on the condition of anonymity. “It was adopted.”

The NATO agreement would mark another landmark in the fence-mending Mr. Bush has done since a military coalition led by the United States and Great Britain liberated Iraq against the wishes of the governments of France, Germany, Russia and of many ordinary European citizens.

That rift, Mr. Bush said, is now in the past.

“I think the bitter differences over the war are over, and I think some people didn’t agree with the decision I made, and others made as well,” Mr. Bush said at a press conference after the U.S.-EU summit held at this exclusive resort in the west of Ireland. “But we all agree that a democratic Iraq, and a peaceful Iraq, is in all our benefit.”

Just as he had done at the Group of Eight summit back home in Georgia earlier this month, Mr. Bush convinced the European Union to declare solidarity with his plan to promote democracy in the greater Middle East as a bulwark against Islamist terrorism.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, current president of the European Union, said the “historic” summit “reaffirmed the strength, depth and significance of our relationship in a spirit of partnership.”

While Mr. Bush was able to continue the warming of European relations he started in Georgia, the president also confidently challenged NATO to come to the aid of Iraq.

“The unity of the trans-Atlantic alliance in the face of new challenges and the advance of freedom in the world, that is what we are going to talk about,” Mr. Bush said, previewing his agenda in Istanbul. “NATO continues to transform itself to meet the new threats of the 21st century.

“NATO has the capability, and I believe the responsibility, to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that is facing their country.”

Diplomats in Brussels said France and Germany dropped opposition to Mr. Bush’s proposal to enlist NATO to train Iraqi security forces because the plea for “urgent help” came directly from Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Iraq, Mr. Bush said, is among the nations of the Middle East that “are eager for reform, and we are listening to their voices.”

He praised Mr. Allawi, whose life is threatened daily by terrorists trying to undermine the emerging representative government, as “a man of courage and backbone” and the “key to a free Iraq.”

NATO involvement in Iraq would lessen the burden on U.S. troops to train Iraqi security forces, lifting the hopes of those who would like to see the United States leave Iraq.

Asked how long U.S. troops will remain, Mr. Bush said that largely depends on Iraq’s ability to defend itself from terrorists and insurgents bent on stopping democracy from taking hold.

“The faster the Iraqis take over their own security needs, the faster the mission will be over,” the president said.

Mr. Bush’s visit to Ireland was marred by protests as thousands took to the streets in cities all over the country to rebuke him and his foreign policy.

A group of protesters blocked buses filled with American reporters trying to get to the post-summit press conference, the only time Mr. Bush was expected to speak with reporters. The press conference started 30 minutes late as a result.

Mr. Bush appeared unconcerned with the protests, though he said he does care how the United States is perceived in the world.

“I must confess that the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November this year,” Mr. Bush said. “I will lead, and we’ll just let the chips fall where they may. As far as my own personal standing goes, my job is to do my job. I’m going to do it the way I think is necessary. I’m going to set a vision.”

Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahern also talked about the mistreatment by U.S. troops of some Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, an incident that helped fuel strong anti-American sentiment in pockets of Europe.

Mr. Bush pledged that the probe into the abuses will continue to be an “open investigation” that “stands in stark contrast to how a tyrant would handle it.”

The president also tartly noted that the international community mostly ignored murders, rapes and other horrific abuses of ordinary Iraqi citizens that occurred under Saddam.

“I don’t remember any international investigation about what happened in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said.

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