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Bush in Europe to mend rifts

 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Bush (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Terence Hunt Associated Press

BRUSSELS, Belgium – President Bush sought to repair rocky relations with Europe on Sunday, saying “no power on Earth will ever divide us.” He urged allies to move beyond differences over Iraq in the interest of Mideast peace.

“As past debates fade and great duties become clear, let us begin a new era of trans-Atlantic unity,” Bush will say in a speech today. Appealing for aid for Iraq, he urges the world’s democracies “to give tangible political, economic and security assistance to the world’s newest democracy.”

Hoping to set a more conciliatory tone for his second term, Bush will meet over five days with some of his toughest critics: French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, both of whom fiercely opposed the U.S.-led invasion.

Bush also will see Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has alarmed the West with Moscow’s retreat from democracy.

Today’s speech, the main address of his trip, is a conciliatory message aimed at citizens across Europe, where Bush is widely disliked.

“Today, America and Europe face a moment of consequence and opportunity,” the president will say. “Together we can once again set history on a hopeful course – away from poverty and despair and toward development and the dignity of self-rule … away from resentment and violence and toward justice and the peaceful settlement of differences.”

Bush’s visit was intended to soothe allies frustrated that their views on issues from Iraq to global warming were often ignored by the White House. Bush said that the European-American alliance is essential for security and global trade and offers of model of freedom for the rest of the world.

“In all these ways, our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe – and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us,” Bush will say.

“Our greatest opportunity and our immediate goal is peace in the Middle East,” the president will say.

An alliance of 88 environmental, human rights, peace and other groups planned two days of protests in Brussels, beginning today, to demand “no European complicity” in a U.S.-designed world order.

Brussels police readied 2,500 officers – 1,000 more than the usual number for the three or four summit meetings that bring European Union leaders to the Belgian capital every year.

While seeking to move past old divisions, Bush and European leaders still face major differences.

Washington opposes Europe’s plans to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo against China. Bush has been cool toward Europe’s negotiations to persuade Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. The White House prefers asking the U.N. Nations Security Council to punish Tehran.

Hard feelings linger from Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto climate change treaty and the International Criminal Court.

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