Bush tells Europe 'no power on earth will ever divide us'

Posted in United States | 21-Feb-05 | Author: Judy Keen| Source: USA Today

President Bush arrives at Brussels National Airport.

Kicking off a five-day trip that includes meetings with the war's most outspoken opponents, Bush will call the alliance between Europe and North America "the main pillar of our security in a new century," according to excerpts released Sunday. (Related: Speech excerpts)

Before the week is out, Bush will hold talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, all of whom opposed the Iraq war. He also will meet with his strongest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

There were protests here Sunday amid signs that some are ready to put Iraq in the past. "There was a phase where we had very different opinions about the war. Then, things were more difficult, but that has been overcome," Schroeder said Sunday on ABC News.

Bush's visit comes as he and European leaders face complex issues. Among them: the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, Syria's role in the Middle East and renewed hopes for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In today's speech, Bush will call peace in the Middle East "our greatest opportunity and our immediate goal."

Bush plans to say that "America supports Europe's democratic unity for the same reason we support the spread of democracy in the Middle East: because freedom leads to peace," according to the excerpts. "And America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom."

Bush's use of the phrase "strong Europe" is particularly aimed at Chirac and Schroeder. Both want to increase Europe's clout by empowering the European Union. Chirac has called for a "multipolar" world that would limit the United States' influence. Schroeder said this month that dialogue with the United States about global security should shift from NATO to the EU, which could develop an independent military force.

The economies of the EU's 25 members rival the USA's $11 trillion economy. Spain voted Sunday to approve an EU constitution; Germany's parliament is debating it. The constitution must be ratified by all 25 members to take effect.

In an interview Friday, a European reporter told Bush that "many in Europe ... are keen to see the EU become something of a counterbalance to America." Bush replied, "One should not fear a strong partner. One should welcome a strong partner, because the values are long-lasting and will endure."

Bush has a working dinner Monday night with Chirac and a breakfast meeting Tuesday with Blair. He'll meet with Schroeder on Wednesday in Mainz, Germany, and with Putin on Thursday in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bush has pressed Putin to end curbs on democracy, including restrictions on free speech and the media and limits on the power of regional governors. National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Russia "needs to progress along on the course of democracy and freedom" if its relationship with the United States is to deepen.