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Middle East Tops Agenda of Bush-Chirac Talks

President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac met Monday evening in Brussels on the eve of important trans-Atlantic talks with NATO and European Union leaders.

Jacques Chirac was one of the biggest critics of the Iraq War. But now, the French and American leaders are emphasizing common ground.

As they sat down with aides for a pre-dinner meeting, they kept their comments positive.

President Bush told reporters he was pleased to meet with Mr. Chirac. He spoke about the symbolism of the meeting.

"This is my first dinner since I have been re-elected on European soil and it is with Jacques Chirac,” said Mr. Bush. “And that ought to say something. It ought to say how important this relationship is for me personally. And how important this relationship is for my country.

The French president acknowledged their differences on Iraq, but said overall relations are excellent and have been for two centuries. He spoke through a translator.

"Why do I say that? Because they are based upon common values, common values that we share," said Mr. Chirac.

President Bush indicated Middle East concerns topped their agenda, including the situation in Lebanon.

As he sat down to dinner with Mr. Chirac, the French and American governments released a joint statement condemning the recent assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and voicing strong support for a free, independent and democratic Lebanon.

In the statement, they said an international investigation into the murder is warranted. And they called for full implementation of a United Nations Security Counsel resolution calling for an end to foreign intervention in Lebanon.

Earlier in the day, President Bush urged Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanese soil, saying the Syrian occupation of Lebanon must end.