US President George W. Bush started off his European visit urging allies to move past Iraq divisions and work together toward peace in the Middle East.
Bush's speech in Brussels stressed the road ahead
On Monday, the US president met with European Union and NATO leaders in Brussels, where he gave a keynote speech stressing the need to move beyond the bitter divisions that sent transatlantic relations plummeting to their lowest point since World War II. He also urged cooperation on Iran and the Middle East and urged Russia to renew its commitment to democracy.
It is Bush's first overseas trip since the beginning of his second term in office and during his speech before an audience in the 19th century Concert Noble Hall, he struck a note that was more conciliatory than the go-it-alone attitude prevalent during his first term that was widely criticized by European leaders.
US President George W. Bush is escorted by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium to deliver a foreign policy speech at the Concert Noble Ballroom in Brussels.
"Together we can once again set history on a hopeful course," he said, urging the EU to help reconstruct Iraq, adding that he wanted to work in partnership with a united Europe.
In a move aimed at easing transatlantic tensions during Bush's visit, on Monday EU foreign ministers approved a plan to train 770 senior Iraqi police officers and judges in the EU and in countries near Iraq. The mission is due to start in mid-2005 and could be extended to Iraq if the security situation on the ground there improves.
Iran and Middle East
During his speech in Brussels, the US leader also addressed the issue of Iran, which has made many Europeans uneasy since there are fears that the US might also be considering using force to make Iran give up its nuclear ambitions.
He left open the possibility of military action there, although he emphasized a diplomatic course.
"In safeguarding the security of free nations, no option can be taken permanently off the table. Iran, however, is different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy," he said.
The dispute over Iran's nuclear program has seen the EU and the US take different approaches. Britain, France and Germany have been negotiating with the Islamic republic to try to bring its nuclear activities into the framework of UN guidelines. The three have preferred a carrot-and-stick approach, promising trade accords in return for Tehran's renouncement of nuclear power.
On the other hand, US officials, who claim Tehran wants to use its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons, are pushing for Iran to be taken before the UN Security Council. Europeans only recently were alarmed by talk in Washington of plans for a military strike on Iran's nuclear weapons.
Bush, however, sought to allay the fears saying they were "just not the truth." At the same time, he has made no effort to suppress his impatience with Tehran's slow response to diplomatic overtures.
Message to Putin
Russia was also a topic in the speech, reflecting concern by western nations that the country led by Vladimir Putin is drifting toward authoritarianism. Bush will meet with Putin on Thursday in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.
Bush said the US supports membership for Russia in the World Trade Organization, but that "for Russia to make progress as a European nation, the Russian government must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law."
He added that the US and EU should put reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia, saying that reform will not happen overnight.
Bush meets with French President Jacques Chirac in Brussels on Monday
Much of Bush's time during his European trip will be spent with leaders who opposed his Iraq policy, such as Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Putin.
Bush tried to play down their rifts, calling them a "temporary debate" and a "passing disagreement of governments."
EU Trade Commission Peter Mandelson, in reacting to Bush's speech, called it an "evolution of American policy," saying the US had learned it was better to work with and through allies.
Still, there were no apologies for either side on the US-led campaign to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"The time has come to draw a line under the tensions of the recent past," said Verhofstadt while introducing Bush. "It makes little sense to continue arguing about who was right and who was wrong."