Allies' Rancor Over Iraq Is 'Over,' Bush Contends
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page A21
NEWMARKET-ON-FERGUS, Ireland, June 26 -- President Bush asserted Saturday that the bitterness over Iraq among European allies was "over" and that NATO has a responsibility to do more to help the fledgling government that will assume limited authority in Baghdad on Wednesday.
"I think the bitter differences of the war are over," Bush said at a news conference after a three-hour summit between the United States and the 25-member European Union. "Some people didn't agree with the decision that I made, and others made as well. But we all agree that a democratic Iraq, a peaceful Iraq . . . is in all our benefit."
The EU was represented by Romano Prodi -- president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm -- and Bertie Ahern, prime minister of Ireland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.
Antiwar protesters forced a 30-minute delay in Bush's news conference with Ahern and Prodi -- a symbolic victory over a president who prizes punctuality. Bush had to wait while the White House press corps was driven in circles on double-decker buses because thousands of opponents of the Iraq war had blocked miles of nearby roads.
At the news conference at the Renaissance-era Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Ahern said discussions included ways the countries could "best work together to support the people of Iraq as they start the process of building a sovereign, secure and democratic country."
The EU issued a statement promising "full and sustained support" for Iraq's incoming interim government. The bloc did not announce any specific pledge of assistance or relief from the debts of the previous regime.
Thousands of demonstrators marched to the area around the castle, protesting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the handling of suspected terrorists and calling for an end to U.S. military flights through Shannon Airport, a refueling point in Ireland used by thousands of U.S. troops each month.
After the news conference, Bush flew to Turkey for a NATO summit that was to be dominated by a request from the new Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, for "urgent help" training security forces. Key NATO members had resisted Bush's call to train Iraqi troops under NATO's flag, but NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffe said ambassadors meeting in Brussels had "reached an initial agreement to respond positively to the request of the Iraqi interim government for assistance with the training of its security forces." Therefore, instead of holding tough negotiations, leaders at the summit are likely to ratify that agreement, which was vague about details.
"NATO has the capability, and I believe the responsibility, to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that's facing their country," Bush said.
With bloodshed in Iraq escalating as the handoff approaches, Bush said that "in terms of exit strategies," the United States would "work to stand up an Iraqi security force and police force that is able to function, to work up a chain of command where the Iraqi police and security folks know that they're working for Iraqis, not for Americans."
One of the tenser moments in the summit came when the European leaders condemned abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. "I told them both I was sick with what happened inside that prison," Bush said. "So were the American citizens. The action of those troops did not reflect what we think. And it did harm. It did harm, because there are people in Ireland and elsewhere that said this isn't the America we know."
First lady Laura Bush canceled an interview with Carol Coleman, a reporter for Radio and Television Ireland who told the president during an interview on the eve of his visit that the world "is more dangerous" because of the war in Iraq. Bush repeatedly scolded Coleman for interrupting him. Coleman said on Irish radio that the interview was canceled because the White House is not used to aggressive questioning. White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirmed the interview was canceled but did not say why.
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