Bush reaches out to Europe with pledge on Middle East

Posted in United States | 22-Feb-05 | Author: Stephen Castle| Source: The Independent

.S. President George W. Bush arrives at the European Council in Brussels, with the European Union stars behind him, February 22, 2005.

George Bush began five days of intensive fence-mending in Europe yesterday with a pledge to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process and to turn his war on terror into a quest to spread democracy, prosperity and hope.

At the start of a brief tour of three countries, the American President wooed EU leaders with praise for European unity and a vision of a progressive US foreign policy that would encourage democracy and "improve lives" by rooting out the causes of terrorism.

Mr Bush made pointed references to the need for greater democracy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, demanded Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, called for greater commitment to pluralism in Russia and welcomed the political shake-up in Ukraine.

Last night his efforts appeared to bear fruit after Jacques Chirac, the French President backed his call for a Syrian withdrawal. In a joint statement the leaders called for a "free, independent, and democratic Lebanon".

Eager to improve his dialogue with Europeans after the divisions over Iraq, Mr Bush dined with M Chirac, last night and will meet all 25 EU heads of government and the European Commission today. Around 2,500 police have been drafted in for today's series of meetings, which threaten to bring much of Brussels to a standstill.

Yesterday's speech was destined to get the visit off to a positive start since most European capitals see the implementation of the Palestinian peace process as the key to regional security.

Mr Bush told the audience: "Israel must freeze settlement activity, help Palestinians build a thriving economy, and ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank. A state of scattered territories will not work."

EU leaders promised to open an office in Baghdad as soon as the security situation allows, one that will co-ordinate the training of Iraqi judges, prosecutors and prison guards. Today the EU and US hope to agree to set up an international conference on rebuilding Iraq.

Mr Bush steered clear of the EU's plan to lift its arms embargo on China, something Washington is resisting, and devoted little of his speech to Iran. The President backed Moscow's bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation but called on the government to "renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law". Meanwhile, he hinted at Nato membership for Ukraine by saying: "As a free government takes hold in that country, and as the government of President Yushchenko pursues reforms, Ukraine should be welcomed by the Euro-Atlantic family."

In a shift of emphasis on combating terrorism, Mr Bush seemed to take on board European notions that alienation in the Middle East has bred the ideologies that produce extremism. He said:"We have accepted the long-term challenge of spreading hope and liberty and prosperity as the great alternatives to terror."

The task of increasing democracy also applied to US allies, Mr Bush argued, saying that the "government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future."