President Bush on Saturday called on West European leaders meeting at a summit to keep Iraq from dividing them by exploiting their desires to see the release of foreigners held in Iraq and Kuwait.
Bush telephoned Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti shortly before the start of a summit of the 12-nation European Community, the first meeting of the leaders since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.Bush "spoke of the need for solidarity and strong cohesion, also regarding the hostages," said Italian spokesman Pio Mastrobuoni.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been making separate offers to European countries to release foreigners who are being held as "human shields" at strategic locations in Iraq.
Mastrobuoni said Italy did not want to give Saddam any inkling there might be "a break in sol-i-darity."
"We are solid and he is failing," said a British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said Western nations wanted the hostages released but all of them - and not just Europeans, according to spokesman Hans Klein.
Saddam has recently allowed small groups of hostages to leave, some after visits to Baghdad by prominent figures. Iraqi has said it is freeing all French hostages.
French spokesman Hubert Vedrine said the release of the French hostages was decided unilaterally by the Iraqis and did not affect French solidarity with the anti-Iraq coalition.
British officials said they expected the summit participants to release a statement on the Persian Gulf. But Vedrine doubted it would differ greatly from previous community statements on the issue.
Kohl's spokesman said the German leader and Bush talked several times in recent days about a trade dispute, and Bush also spoke to Andreotti on the issue, stressing the need for a quick agreement.
At issue is a community proposal for 30 percent reductions in subsidies for major crops over a 10-year period beginning in 1986. Some cuts already have occurred.