By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
MESEBERG, Germany, June 11-- President Bush said Wednesday he is confident the United States will reach an agreement on the role of U.S. forces in Iraq, calling opposition to a U.S. proposal part of the "noise" of a freer Iraqi society.
Appearing at a news conference here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bush said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "appreciates our presence there" and suggested that much of the Iraqi opposition to a status-of-forces agreement is based on inaccurate media reports and misunderstandings. "There's all kinds of noise in their system and our system," Bush said. ". . . I think we'll get the agreement done."
Top Iraqi officials are calling for a dramatic reduction of the U.S. role in Iraq later this year.
Bush's remarks followed a meeting with Merkel at Schloss Meseberg, a restored 18th-century Prussian manor house in northeast Berlin that now serves as the German government guest house. Bush conferred with Merkel as part of a farewell tour of Europe that would take him to Rome later Wednesday and then to Paris and London.
Standing alongside President Bush here Wednesday, Merkel was asked by a reporter: "Will you miss him?"
Merkel, one of Bush's closest foreign allies, never quite answered the question. "There was always . . . openness here between us," Merkel said at one point. "This cooperation is fun, I must say, and as the president said, it is going to be a sprint to the last day of his office."
For most other Europeans, it seems, the sprint cannot end soon enough. For years, protesters regularly crippled European capitals with massive anti-Bush demonstrations. Now, the president's last scheduled visit to Europe this week is prompting a continental yawn, as Europeans look ahead to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as his successor.
Aside from some modest demonstrations by antiwar activists in Rome, no significant protests are expected during Bush's week-long visit. The only demonstrators who bothered to show up Wednesday outside Schloss Meseberg, where Bush and Merkel met, were a handful of German dairy farmers protesting the price of milk.
"The tire's flat, so to speak," said Christian Hacke, a transatlantic relations specialist who formerly taught political science at the University of Bonn.
For more than seven years, opinion polls here have underscored a deep and abiding dislike for Bush among Europeans, based on the war in Iraq, the anti-terrorism fight, climate change policy and other issues.
Now, many people here feel the end is in sight. "The USA needs change and I'm impressed with Obama," said Patrick Morcos, 52, an antiques dealer in Paris.
Bush's stubborn unpopularity here often obscured notable improvements in relations between Bush and leaders such as Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.
Reginald Dale, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Bush "has moved towards the Europeans in a number of areas" in his second term. He pointed to U.S. policies on Iran and its nuclear program and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process as examples.
Correspondent John Ward Anderson in Paris and special correspondents Shannon Smiley in Berlin and Corinne Gavard in Nice, France, contributed to this report.