- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — President Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel both forcefully rejected the assertion by two European reporters yesterday that people here see the U.S. as more threatening to peace than Iran or North Korea, with Mr. Bush saying Europeans may not have learned the same lessons that Americans did from September 11.

“That’s absurd,” Mr. Bush said at a press conference, after being told by a reporter from the Financial Times that Europeans consider the U.S. the biggest threat to global stability.

“For Europe, September the 11th was a moment. For us, it was a change of thinking,” Mr. Bush said, followed moments later by Mr. Schuessel, who said that as an Austrian born in 1945, at the end of World War II, he can attest to the U.S. as a force for “freedom, democracy, prosperity, development.”

“Where would Europe be today? Not a peaceful, prosperous Europe like we love it and where we live,” Mr. Schuessel said, praising the postwar Marshall Plan in particular. “Never forget that America fed us with food, with economic support.”

The president was meeting with Mr. Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, in Vienna for the annual U.S.-EU summit, and with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The leaders said they are united on how to handle several pressing international issues, particularly Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Bush rejected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that he wants until Aug. 22 to respond to the package of incentives put forward by six nations trying to head off Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

“It shouldn’t take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable deal,” Mr. Bush said, repeating his general timetable of “weeks, not months” for Iran to respond to the offer.

The package was offered June 1 and officially presented to Iran on June 6 by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief.

Mr. Schuessel said European leaders agree with Mr. Bush’s timetable for Iran.

“The time is limited, and I think we should not play with time,” the chancellor said. He then said that he had studied ancient Greek and that the Greeks had a word for the situation, “kyros,” which means the “right moment.”

“This is their kyros. Take it. This is my advice,” Mr. Schuessel said.

At virtually the same time Mr. Bush was speaking in Vienna, top negotiators from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany held a conference call, reaffirming support for the package offered to Iran and standing by the general time frame sought for Tehran’s response, the State Department said.

Mr. Bush and the European leaders agreed to push for a new trade agreement in the current round of talks under the World Trade Organization, and Mr. Bush said he raised the issue of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said he would like to close it but needs direction from the U.S. Supreme Court first on what sort of trial is appropriate for the terror suspects detained there.

Mr. Bush said about 200 people have been sent home from Guantanamo Bay, and about 400 remain. They are mainly from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Standing in the Ceremonial Hall of Hofburg Palace, which was the former throne room of the Hapsburgs, the leaders took two questions from the U.S. press and two from the European press. The American questions concerned nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, but both European questioners demanded that Mr. Bush explain himself to Europeans, challenging him on his poor showing in European polls.

The first question from the Financial Times drew Mr. Bush’s brief “absurd” response. Minutes later, an Austrian TV reporter asked the president, “Why do you think that you’ve failed so badly to convince Europeans, to win their heads and hearts and minds?”

Mr. Bush answered more expansively this time, thanking the reporter for the question and telling him the September 11 attacks divide the U.S. and other nations.

“I vowed to the American people I would do everything to defend our people, and will,” he said. “I fully understood that the longer we got away from September 11, more people would forget the lessons of September 11. But I’m not going to forget them.”

In defending the U.S. record on freedom and human rights, Mr. Bush noted that the United States has provided “more money than ever before in the world’s history” to fight AIDS. The president also noted his declaration of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan — a lead that leaders of Europe and the United Nations have been reluctant to follow.

“I declared Darfur to be a genocide because I care deeply about those who have been afflicted by these renegade bands of people who are raping and murdering,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Schuessel said it was “grotesque” to say the U.S. was more of a threat than North Korea or Iran, and warned that Europeans “should not be naive” about the threat from terrorists. Mr. Schuessel said Austria still benefits from the Marshall Fund, which now finances research and development.

The European reporters’ attitude contrasted starkly with that of two students from Kosovo Mr. Bush met just a few hours later during a round-table with foreign students.

“I want to wholeheartedly thank you, your government and the people of the United States for working for a stable, free and democratic Kosovo and the region,” said one student, Rezarta Gashi, adding that her father had been killed during the Kosovo war.

David R. Sands, reporting from Washington, contributed to this article.

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