Bush Lauds Italy's

Berlusconi on Iraq Stand

President Bush praised Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as "a strong partner in peace" yesterday, but the two leaders avoided any public discussion of Italy's plan to pull its troops out of Iraq.

"Relations between the United States and Italy are strong," Bush said during an Oval Office meeting with the Italian leader, one of the United States' strongest supporters in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. He thanked Berlusconi for his commitment to freedom for people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Berlusconi came to Washington facing a tough upcoming election. A frequent visitor, Berlusconi said that it was becoming "a habit for me to come pay homage to the president in the Oval Office." The Italian leader said Bush will be remembered as "the one who is so farsighted" at a sensitive moment in world history.

Defying strong domestic opposition, Berlusconi sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq to help maintain security and rebuild the country after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. An initial contingent of 300 troops recently returned home.

Berlusconi has said Italy will gradually withdraw groups of 300 troops until 1,000 remain, when they will all come home. Italy's defense minister has said it is "plausible" that troops would return home in the first half of 2006.

Berlusconi's office also denied reports last week in the left-leaning daily La Repubblica alleging that the government was involved in giving the United States and Britain documents known to be forged that detailed a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger for weapons use. The United States and Britain used the claim to show that Hussein was seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Chertoff: Disaster Plans A Matter of 'Civic Virtue'

Stockpiling supplies and developing family response plans in case disaster strikes not only could save lives -- it's also a civic duty, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday.

Two months of hurricanes ravaging the Gulf Coast should prove that people need to make preparations so emergency officials can focus on those who are poor, elderly or otherwise cannot help themselves, Chertoff said.

"For those people who say, 'Well, I can take care of myself no matter what, I don't have to prepare,' there is an altruistic element -- that to the extent that they are a burden on government services, that takes away from what's available to help those who can't help themselves," Chertoff said in an interview with the Associated Press. "That is a matter of civic virtue."

Chertoff's comments mark a new stage in the Department of Homeland Security's "Ready" campaign -- which was widely ridiculed two years ago for urging homeowners to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting to safeguard their homes against a chemical or biological attack.

Now, Chertoff said, the department plans to reach out to school students to carry the preparedness messages home to their parents. Additionally, Homeland Security and the Ad Council launched a newspaper and radio campaign yesterday pitched at small businesses to develop disaster plans for workplaces.

-- From News Services