Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Bush begins Europe trip


US President George W. Bush dismissed the rift with Europe over Iraq as a "passing disagreement of governments" yesterday and urged greater trans-Atlantic cooperation, including more support for the fledgling Iraqi government.

"Now is the time for the established democracies to give tangible political, economic and security assistance to the world's newest democracy," Bush said in a speech intended for both European and US consumption.

Bush began a five-day European trip in Brussels, home to both the EU and NATO.

He also planned to dine privately here with French President Jacques Chirac, one of his most outspoken critics on the Iraq War.

Despite his appeal to bury past differences, divisions remain over postwar Iraq, how to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions, a European proposal to end a 15-year arms embargo with China and a treaty on global warming spurned by Washington.

Aides conceded that much work needed to be done. But the president's words were clearly conciliatory. And his advisers said it was hoped they would lead to greater, and cooler, dialogue.

"As past debates fade, and great duties become clear, let us begin a new era of transatlantic unity," Bush said in a prepared speech. Excerpts were released before delivery.

"No temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us," he said.

Bush attends meetings of both the EU and NATO today, visits Germany tomorrow and on Thursday goes to Slovakia, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Our greatest opportunity, and our immediate goal, is peace in the Middle East," Bush said.

However, many challenges remain. Washington strongly opposes Europe's plans to lift the arms embargo against China. EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson made a plea yesterday for the EU to lift the "anachronistic" arms embargo on authoritarian China, despite opposition from the US.

Speaking on BBC radio, the commissioner for trade and industry said: "I think Europe should do it. And I think the [US] administration would be wrong to pick a fight with Europe over this, which it can't actually win."

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