- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

SAVANNAH, Ga. — President Bush said yesterday was “a proud day for me” as he sat down with a free Iraq’s new president, who expressed gratitude to the U.S.-led coalition that liberated his country from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

“This is a special day for me and those of us in my administration who are here, because I really never thought I’d be sitting next to an Iraqi president of a free country a year and a half ago, and here you are,” said Mr. Bush just before his meeting with Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer

“Having listened to you, I have got great faith in the future of your country because you believe in the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s a proud day for me, and I’m glad you’re here.”

The president’s meeting with Mr. al-Yawer was a highlight of a day that came as the leaders of the Group of Eight economic powers endorsed Mr. Bush’s plan to spread democracy throughout the Middle East and a day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a plan to transfer sovereignty to a democratic Iraq.

Mr. Bush also urged the G-8 nations to support further NATO involvement in what is now an occupation of Iraq but after the June 30 turnover of power will be a peacekeeping force.

But French President Jacques Chirac, who was against the Iraq war, would not go along.

“We believe NATO ought to be involved,” Mr. Bush said after a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United States’ strongest ally in the war. “We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the role that now exists and hopefully expand it somewhat.”

Sixteen of the 26 NATO countries already are assisting the U.S. and British troops that spearheaded the war, but in an unofficial capacity.

Mr. Chirac said he is still “very much open to debate and discussion” of an expanded role for NATO in Iraqi peacekeeping, but only if “the sovereign Iraqi government were to ask for it.”

“I do not believe it is NATO’s purpose to intervene in Iraq,” said Mr. Chirac, who this week joined German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in declaring that they would not supply troops to Iraq.

The dispute over NATO represents the only major disagreement among the G-8 nations, who only months ago were divided between those who supported the war in Iraq — the United States, Britain, Italy and Japan — and those who opposed it — France, Germany, Canada and Russia.

Yesterday, it was apparent that those fences have been mended because Mr. Bush was able to secure unanimous agreement for the overarching goal of his foreign policy — the spreading of democracy in the Middle East.

The plan commits the G-8 nations to establishing a “Democracy Assistance Dialogue” to help the Arab world foster democratic societies and encourage private-sector investment as the nations progress to representative governments.

The diplomatic breakthroughs might prove to be politically helpful to Mr. Bush, who has been harshly criticized by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for damaging U.S. relations with its traditional allies.

The eight states also said yesterday that they remain concerned about North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs.

The G-8 leaders acknowledged some progress dealing with Tehran but “deplore Iran’s delays, deficiencies in cooperation, and inadequate disclosures.” They urged the Iranian government to “promptly and fully” comply with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and all obligations under the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For his part, Mr. al-Yawer said he was grateful to be the first test of Mr. Bush’s new doctrine in the Middle East and personally thanked the president and the American people for liberating his country.

“Thanks to the American people for the leadership of George Bush, without which we couldn’t have been here,” Mr. al-Yawer said. “I would like to express to you the commitment of the Iraqi people to move toward democracy. We are moving in steady steps toward it.”

Mr. al-Yawer pledged that the people of Iraq would not let “the sacrifices that the brave men and women of the United States endured” be in vain.

“We are working with all our hearts to make sure that all these sacrifices … will be to the benefit of the Iraqi public,” Mr. al-Yawer said.

Mr. Bush, the host of the summit, also invited the leaders of four other Arab nations — Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan — and the leaders of Afghanistan and Turkey.

In a luncheon meeting with Mr. Bush, the leaders of those countries expressed support for the president’s Middle East initiative, said a senior Bush administration official. Before the meeting, some leaders in the Arab world expressed distaste for the perception of Western meddling in their politics.

“The real drive for reform must and does come from within,” the official said. “Those governments are already undertaking it because the people of those countries are demanding it.

“One leader said that we are doing this not because you demand it, but because our people demand it and we do it out of conviction,” the official said. “We believe in what we are doing.”

Mr. Bush will wrap up the summit this afternoon with a press conference before heading back to Washington to prepare for his participation in former President Ronald Reagan’s state funeral tomorrow.

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