President Bush returns to U.S. after mending fences in Europe

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush returned from Europe late last Thursday, after a weeklong effort to heal the rift between the U.S. and Europe specifically in stabilizing a war-torn Iraq.

His goodwill trip included meetings with traditional U.S. allies in Germany, Belgium and France, as well as a stop in the newly formed democratic state of Slovakia.

Although Bush was greeted with a warmer reception than previous trips, some key European leaders are still hesitant to provide long-term commitments to the Iraqi peace effort, and are still divided on how to pressure Iran to end its nuclear aspirations.

First in Belgium, Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, where the two leaders praised the January elections in Iraq as a step toward permanent democracy in the country.

“America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world,” Bush said.

The next day, Bush delivered a speech before the Belgium prime minister and other NATO officials, further stressing the importance of U.S.-European ties.

Afterward, the President traveled to the German town of Mainz, to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

President Bush and Chancellor Schroeder agreed to work together to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, but remained at odds on how to achieve this. Germany and other European strongholds such as France are seeking negotiation tactics with Iran, possibly including eventual membership into the World Trade Organization, if the country gives up its nuclear weapons plans. As of Monday, the Bush administration is still considering whether to join the European effort.

After a cordial dinner with French President Jacques Chirac, the two leaders downplayed disagreements between the United States and France over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and both condemned last month’s killing of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Although France has offered no plans to aid in the Iraqi relief effort, the French leader said he and Bush “always had very warm relations” and noted the French-U.S. alliance has been “excellent for over 200 years now.”

On Thursday, President Bush had strong words for Russian President Vladimir Putin for curbing democracy by limiting free-speech rights of Russian journalists. But the two leaders agreed to future cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism and promote peace in the Middle East.

In Washington last Friday, Bush met with senior foreign policy officials to discuss plans to cooperate with Europe on the multilateral effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. According to the Washington Post, now that Bush is convinced that Europe is united against Iran, White House officials say he is more willing to endorse European negotiation strategies.

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