Facing tough talks with U.S. allies, President Bush said Thursday it would be disastrous if they took their troops out of Iraq. The president spoke on the eve of a trip to Europe slated to be as much about mending fences with allies as commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the greatest invasion in history.
Pulling out of Iraq, Bush said, would send the wrong signals to the Iraqi people and to terrorists. “It would dispirit those who love freedom in Iraq,” he said.
Bush’s trip opened a month of high-level diplomacy that will bring him face to face with other staunch supporters on Iraq, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and critics such as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Various demonstrations, including one expected to draw thousands of people Friday, were planned to protest the war in Iraq. Most of the center of Rome will be closed to traffic and airspace over it will be restricted. About 10,000 police will be deployed during Bush’s visit, Italian officials said.
Fear of violent demonstrations
Berlusconi said Thursday he was worried about violent demonstrations against President Bush during a visit to Rome.
“The information that we have worries us about the kind of demonstrations that could take place tomorrow,” he told a news conference hours before Bush’s arrival in the Italian capital.
Anti-war protesters have planned demonstrations Friday against Bush over the Iraq war, and Italian officials have said they feared some could become violent.
Hours before Bush’s scheduled arrival in Rome, several mortar shells were fired at the Italian Embassy in Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry in Rome said. Italian officials said some Iraqis died, but an Iraqi police officer in Baghdad said one Iraqi was killed. No Italians were hurt in the attack, the ministry said.
From Rome, Bush travels Saturday to France, where he will meet with Chirac in Paris before heading to Normandy on Sunday to participate in a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day. He will then go immediately to Sea Island, Ga., to serve as host for the annual Group of Eight economic summit of major democracies.
Bush to seek backing for U.N. resolution
Bush has said he will use his upcoming meetings with allies to drum up support for a new U.N. Security Council resolution dealing with post-occupation Iraq.
His visit to Italy marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Rome by Allied forces on June 4, 1944.
In addition to meetings with Berlusconi and other Italian officials, Bush is meeting Friday at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, a critic of the Iraq war.
In an interview with Italian television before he left Washington, Bush said: “Look, a lot of people didn’t like the war. I understand that completely. And I don’t like war.”
“I will tell his Holy Father I appreciate his positions — he is a great man — and that I look forward to working with the Iraqis to put in place the conditions so that human rights prevail, something that didn’t happen under Saddam Hussein,” Bush said.
Vatican officials say the meeting is intended to be forward-looking and that the pope supported efforts to restore sovereignty to Iraq. Later in the month, he travels to Ireland for a European Union summit and to Turkey for a NATO meeting.