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Bush to meet with EU leaders on Iran

"Old Europe" and "New Europe" get equal billing this week during President Bush's latest trip across the Atlantic.
/ Source: The Associated Press

"Old Europe" and "New Europe" get equal billing this week during President Bush's latest trip across the Atlantic.

Before leaving on his 15th presidential trip to the Continent, Bush touted ties between the United States and Europe, praising joint efforts to end Syrian involvement in Lebanon, establish peace between Israelis and Palestinians, fight poverty, AIDS and genocide in Africa, battle terrorism and establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president, who boarded Marine One on a dewy South Lawn Tuesday with First Lady Laura Bush, also made clear that he was taking a wish list with him to the U.S.-European Union summit being held Wednesday in Vienna, Austria.

Goals for the trip
He wants Europe to eliminate agricultural subsidies so that talks for a global free-trade pact can move forward. And he wants European nations to make good on pledges of financial assistance for Iraq's reconstruction.

Bush also hoped to shore up a united front on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"America and Europe must work together to advance freedom and democracy," Bush said Monday during a commencement speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

The president is visiting a Europe where widespread aversion to his foreign policy _ and even his personal style _ reduce his leverage to make demands.

European concerns
Chief among the complaints by the European populace and many leaders is the Iraq war. The opposition to Bush's decision to invade there has been intensified by a host of other concerns: the U.S. detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including recent suicides; allegations of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; the reported existence of secret CIA prisons worldwide; and an alleged massacre of unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

A survey conducted in 15 European countries by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, released last week, showed America's trans-Atlantic image problems. Favorable opinions of the United States this year ranged from a high of 56 percent in key U.S. ally Britain to a low of 23 percent in Spain.

Pro-U.S. sentiment is stronger in much of formerly communist East Europe. So Bush is pairing his Vienna stop with a visit to a relatively new democracy, Hungary.

Hungarian stopover
When his plan to travel to Kiev from Vienna was scotched because of Ukraine's difficulty in forming a new government, it was hastily replaced with a stay in Budapest to commemorate _ four months early _ the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

The uprising against communist rule there was brutally crushed when Soviet troops overran the country. The communist regime wasn't ended until 1990.

Bush planned meetings with a raft of the country's leaders, beginning with President Laszlo Solyom. Then he was placing a wreath at the Eternal Flame Memorial that honors those who died in the bloody 1956 revolt and delivering a speech billed as the highlight of the trip.

The agenda recalls Bush's trip to Europe a year ago. Then, he participated in a wreath-laying at an obelisk in Riga, Latvia, that represents the resistance to communism, and delivered an ode to the power of democracy before tens of thousands in the same square in Tbilisi, Georgia, where citizens celebrated the Soviet Union's fall.

On Monday, he made clear that he believes some nations in Europe have much to copy in their neighborhood's newest democracies. Bush pointedly expressed gratitude for Eastern Europe's steadfast partnership on Iraq.

"A free and sovereign Iraq requires the strong support of Europe," he said. "And some of the most important support for Iraqis is coming from European democracies with recent memories of tyranny: Poland and Hungary and Romania and Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia."

Security concerns
In Austria, where Bush is the first American president to visit in 27 years, police were on alert for possible violent anti-Bush demonstrations. And Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, planned to urge Bush to shut down Guantanamo.

Iran is one area where Bush is in agreement with European allies, as he pursues a strategy of working in concert with other world powers to engage Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council _ the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia _ plus Germany drew up a package of rewards and possible penalties that were presented earlier this month to Iran by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The package calls on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment as a condition for the start of talks in which the United States would participate.

Bush warned Tehran it faces action before the U.N. Security Council and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions if it rejects the offer.

Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium, which it says it is doing for peaceful purposes. Iranian officials say they are reviewing the package and will propose amendments.