- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

BRUSSELS — President Bush used his European trip to make fresh demands of friend and foe alike yesterday in his quest to democratize the Middle East, while he and French President Jacques Chirac jointly called on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

Mr. Chirac, who tried to torpedo U.S. efforts to free Iraq from Saddam Hussein, issued a joint communique with Mr. Bush emphasizing the countries’ agreement on Lebanon, and Mr. Bush hinted at a Chirac visit to the United States.

The two men issued a tough joint statement condemning last week’s killing of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, and calling for a Lebanon “free from foreign domination.”

“We support the U.N. investigation into this terrorist act and … urge full and immediate implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 in all its aspects,” it added, referring to the resolution calling for all foreign forces to leave Lebanon. Syria has 14,000 troops in the neighboring nation.

Before the dinner meeting with Mr. Chirac, which officials described as “extremely cordial,” Mr. Bush was asked by a French reporter whether he would invite Mr. Chirac to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Mr. Bush, who usually invites only his closest allies to the ranch, grinned at Mr. Chirac and said: “I’m looking for a good cowboy.”

A White House official later told reporters that Mr. Chirac likely would visit Mr. Bush in the United States this year, but no details had been determined.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush set his theme as democratization, telling a European audience in the Concert Noble grand theater that Europe’s security depends on spreading liberty throughout the Arab world.

“In the long run, we cannot live in peace and safety if the Middle East continues to produce ideologies of murder and terrorists who seek the deadliest weapons,” Mr. Bush said. “Regimes that terrorize their own people will not hesitate to support terror abroad.

“A status quo of tyranny and hopelessness in the Middle East — the false stability of dictatorship and stagnation — can only lead to deeper resentment in a troubled region and further tragedy in free nations,” he added. “The future of our nations, and the future of the Middle East, are linked — and our peace depends on their hope and development and freedom.”

In their meeting, Mr. Bush also told Mr. Chirac that he opposed a move by the European Union to lift the arms embargo on China, which was imposed after Beijing’s 1989 bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac also played down disagreements between the United States and Europe over the U.S.-led war in Iraq in a meeting that both parties painted as an effort to put the past behind them.

The French leader said he and Mr. Bush had “always had very warm relations” and noted the Franco-U.S. ties have been “excellent for over 200 years now.”

Mr. Bush noted the symbology of “the first dinner since I’ve been re-elected on European soil, and it’s with Jacques Chirac. And that ought to say something.”

In the speech, Mr. Bush made only a few passing references to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, instead spending most of his 31-minute speech upbraiding Syria and Iran and cajoling Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“Lasting, successful reform in the broader Middle East will not be imposed from the outside; it must be chosen from within,” he said in a speech that used the imperative word “must” about three dozen times. “Governments must choose to fight corruption, abandon old habits of control, protect the rights of conscience and the rights of minorities.”

He added that Middle East regimes must “take responsibility for solving problems instead of simply blaming others.”

Mr. Bush was especially blunt about Syria, reiterating his demand that it withdraw troops from Lebanon. He called Lebanon “a once-thriving country that now suffers under the influence of an oppressive neighbor.”

Syria has issued no official reaction to calls from Mr. Bush and other leaders that it leave Lebanon, but yesterday a top Arab diplomat said Syrian President Bashar Assad had told him that Damascus would pull out its troops soon.

“During our meeting, President Assad expressed his firm desire, more than once … to withdraw from Lebanon,” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said.

Mr. Bush, irked by Russia’s recent decision to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, also suggested in his speech that Moscow get its own house in order before it can become fully part of the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will meet with Mr. Bush on Thursday, has been cracking down on Russia’s free press and fledgling free markets.

“We must always remind Russia, however, that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law,” the president said. “The United States and all European countries should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia.”

Turning to Iraq, which last month held its first free elections in 50 years, Mr. Bush reminded his audience that “some European nations joined the fight to liberate Iraq, while others did not.”

A senior administration official later said the success of the elections has prompted numerous nations that sat out the Iraq conflict to come forward with financial contributions.

In addition, the European Union yesterday boosted its help for U.S. efforts to build a working civil society in Iraq, by offering to train 770 senior Iraqi police officers and judges.

“This is the first united EU action … which goes beyond the monetary,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said. “That will be very important for the meetings we will have here tomorrow with President Bush.”

A second senior administration official said the president’s speech, while tough in tone, was meant to convey the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance between the United States and Europe.

“There was some speculation in much of the European press that the United States … somehow wishes to exacerbate intra-European differences,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “We do not want to have a divided Europe, because that would mean a weaker partner.”

Although he used the word “must” when making demands of Syria and Iran, Mr. Bush switched to the gentler “can” in urging allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia to end their repressive ways.

“The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future,” he said. “And 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.”

Mr. Bush began his speech, attended by several U.S. officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, by joking about his popularity in much of Europe. He cited Benjamin Franklin’s visit to Europe more than 200 years ago.

Mr. Bush quoted a Franklin observer then: “There was scarcely a peasant or a citizen who did not consider him as a friend to humankind.”

“I have been hoping for a similar reception,” he added, drawing laughter. “But Secretary Rice told me I should be a realist.”

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