- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

12:41 p.m.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — President Bush today dismissed as “absurd” a recent poll in which European nations said U.S. involvement in Iraq was a worse problem than Iran and its nuclear program.

Though Mr. Bush scores low on popularity polls in Europe, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, the European summit host, rose to his defense, which seemed to catch the president by surprise.

“I think it’s grotesque to say that America is a threat to the peace in the world compared with North Korea, Iran, a lot of countries,” Mr. Schuessel said, adding that it was Mr. Bush who had raised Guantanamo Bay and other thorny issues.

“He came up, and he said, ‘Look, this is my problem. This is where we are, ” Mr. Schuessel said. “And I think we should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic. We should understand what September 11 meant to the American people.”

Mr. Bush won a robust endorsement from European leaders for his tough approach to nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, despite trans-Atlantic differences on Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and trade.

European Union leaders emerged from a summit with Mr. Bush in this capital of cafes and cobblestones to back U.S. demands that North Korea abandon a long-range missile test and that Iran quit dragging its feet in responding to a Western plan aimed at getting it to suspend uranium enrichment activity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that his country will respond to the proposal by mid-August.

Mr. Bush was cool to the time frame. “It shouldn’t take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable deal,” he said. “We’ll come to the table when they verifiably suspend. Period.”

Mr. Schuessel — whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 25-nation European Union — said it’s best for Iran to agree to the proposal as soon as possible. “This is the carrot. Take it,” Mr. Schuessel said.

On North Korea, Mr. Schuessel agreed with Mr. Bush that the communist country faces further isolation from the international community if it test-fires a long-range missile believed capable of reaching U.S. soil.

“It should make people nervous when nontransparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear warheads fire missiles,” Mr. Bush said. “This is not the way you conduct business in the world.”

Mr. Schuessel said Europe would support the U.S. against North Korea if it test-fires the missile.

“If that happens, there will be a strong statement and a strong answer from the international community. And Europe will be part of it. There’s no doubt,” said Mr. Schuessel, who appeared with Mr. Bush and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to address reporters.

There were a host of other issues on the U.S.-EU agenda.

On terrorism, Mr. Bush thanked the Europeans for their support in Afghanistan and Iraq while acknowledging past disputes about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“I can understand the differences … but what’s past is past, and what’s ahead is a hopeful democracy in the Middle East,” he said.

Across the 25-nation bloc, mounting discontent over the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the campaign in Iraq; and the purported existence of secret CIA terror prisons in Eastern Europe have threatened to eclipse the talks.

Mr. Bush acknowledged European concerns about the 460 detainees held at the U.S. facility in Cuba because of their suspected ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban, but he said the group includes some dangerous people who need to be brought to justice.

“I understand their concerns,” Mr. Bush said. “I’d like to end Guantanamo. I’d like it to be over with.”

Mr. Bush said that 200 detainees had been sent home and that most of the remaining 460 are from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

“There are some who need to be tried in U.S. courts,” he said. “They’re coldblooded killers. They will murder somebody if they are let out on the street.”

Mr. Barroso said the leaders also discussed with Mr. Bush a way to reach a balanced conclusion to a global trade deal. The United States is among 149 nations trying to finish the international round of trade talks known as the Doha Round, named after the city in Qatar where they began.

Negotiators have missed several deadlines. There are disagreements over cutting farm barriers in Europe, the United States and other rich nations. Major developing countries, such as India and Brazil, also are refusing to significantly reduce trade barriers that protect their manufacturing and service industries.

“After the good exchange of views we had today during this summit, I’m convinced — I’m really convinced that it’s possible to have a successful outcome of the Doha talks,” Mr. Barroso said. “And it’s crucially important from a trade point of view, from a global economic point of view, but also from a development point of view.”

Still, anti-Bush sentiment was prevalent outside.

About 1,200 students chanting “Bush go home” rallied at a train station to protest his visit to the capital, where 1,000 police officers were assigned solely to deal with demonstrators. Another 2,000 officers patrolled the city.

Leading the students was U.S. “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and energized the antiwar movement last summer with a protest outside Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch. Demonstrators waved black flags, blew whistles, beat drums and shouted, “Hey, ho, Bush has got to go.” Others carried banners and signs that said, “World’s No. 1 terrorist” and “Islam is not the enemy.”

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