PARIS President Bush said Friday that just as the United States helped Europe rebuild after World War II, the two powers must now stand with newborn democracies like Afghanistan and Iraq and reach out to people yearning for liberty, especially in the Middle East.
Bush delivered his speech, a progress report on trans-Atlantic relations, in France, a nation that was crucial to America's quest for independence. Arriving in Paris from Rome, where he met with Pope Benedict XVI, Bush took a motorcade ride to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and confidently pronounced U.S.-Europe relations the "broadest and most vibrant" ever.
A few years ago that wasn't the case. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former French President Jacques Chirac clashed with Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Two of Bush's allies, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, paid a political price for backing him on the war, which fractured trans-Atlantic ties.
Bush has spent his second term successfully mending them. But while his administration has joined nations across the globe to try to solve a host of international threats, including North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs, the president's initial, first-term go-it-alone reputation set the tone for his presidency.
In his speech Friday, Bush pushed European leaders not to work at cross purposes with the U.S. or their neighbors but to address global challenges of energy, security and trade. Ultimately, he said, the only way for freedom and democracy to win out over terrorists is to defeat their ideology, especially in the broader Middle East.
"The rise of free and prosperous societies in the broader Middle East is essential to peace in the 21st century, just as the rise of a free and prosperous Europe was essential to peace in the 20th century," he said. "So Europe and America must stand with reformers, democratic leaders and millions of ordinary people across the Middle East who seek a future of hope and liberty and peace."
Bush's speech was replete with references to his so-called "freedom agenda" that has defined his foreign policy. In Lebanon, the U.S. and Europe must stand with those struggling to protect their sovereignty and independence, he said. "We must firmly oppose Iran and Syria's support for terror," he said. "And for the security of Europe and for the peace of the world, we must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
Europe and the United States, he said, must also stand with those committed to a two-state solution to the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I firmly believe that with leadership and courage, a peace agreement is possible this year," he said in defiance of naysayers who say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are too politically weakened to get the job done.
The president timed his speech to the 60th anniversary of the start of the Marshall Plan to show how far the West has come in building a peaceful and prosperous Europe that rose out of the ruins of World War II. And it came at the tail-end of his farewell tour of Europe.
His presidency ends in January, and the race to replace him is consuming attention at home and abroad.
The president said he is seeing the outlines of a "new era of trans-Atlantic unity" in the faces of Europe's current leaders Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
He praised Sarkozy for agreeing to send more troops to Afghanistan and thanked him for hosting a donors conference for the nation in Paris earlier in the week. Donors ranging from the U.S. to the World Bank pledged about $20 billion for Afghanistan on Thursday and they made clear they want their money spent better in a desperately poor country.
In opening their pockets yet again, many donors complained about endemic corruption that has bled past donations in a nation where illegal drugs are the mainstay of a broken economy.
In Afghanistan last year, more than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks, the most since the 2001 U.S. invasion ousted the brutal former Taliban regime. Another 1,500 have died this year. Bush flatly called Afghanistan "broke" before his trip.
Meanwhile, the continued threat from insurgents, and the consequences of fighting them, were spotlighted this week when a U.S. airstrike along Afghanistan's lawless border with Pakistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers under disputed circumstances. The deaths put the United States on the defensive about its priorities and tactics just as first lady Laura Bush was making her third trip to Afghanistan, trying to draw attention to small-scale, successful projects in the struggling nation.
Bush began the day taking a rare stroll through the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.
"Your eminence, you're looking good," Bush told Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of their third visit.
Normally, VIPS are received in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace. That's where Bush had his first meeting with Benedict in June 2007. But in a gesture of appreciation for the hearty welcome Bush gave him in Washington in April, Benedict welcomed the president and Mrs. Bush near St. John's Tower in the lush Vatican Gardens.
The president ended his first day in France by having dinner with Sarkozy at the French president's palace. The two leaders were all smiles as they exchanged pleasantries in the palace courtyard.
Mrs. Bush said this was her first time meeting Sarkozy's wife, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni.
"She invited me to come about 30 minutes early to the dinner so that we'll have a chance to sit down with each other before the dinner party starts, before the social part starts, and have a chance to talk to each other and get to know each other," Mrs. Bush told reporters on Air Force One just before it landed in Paris.