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Bush Set for Intensive Talks with European Leaders


President Bush has launched a marathon round of talks with European leaders in Brussels, as he seeks to mend a trans-Atlantic alliance frayed by the war in Iraq.

President Bush will spend most of the day at back-to-back summits - first with NATO leaders, and then with the European Union. Their agenda will be broad. And, if the president's speech Monday to the European people is any indication, the talks will focus to a large extent on the drive to bring peace to the greater Middle East.

Efforts to end the long-running Israeli-Palestinian dispute are a priority for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will host a high-level conference, March First, in London.

Mr. Blair - who is America's strongest ally on Iraq - met with President Bush for breakfast before they headed to NATO headquarters. He says there is a renewed sense of vigor and optimism in the peace process.

"With the London conference coming up next week, I think we have got every possibility now of trying to reach a settlement which I think would do so much for international relations, worldwide," said Mr. Blair.

During a brief appearance before reporters, Prime Minister Blair also spoke about the importance of good relations between Europe and the United States. Mr. Bush says, once more, that a strong Europe is key.

"I am looking forward to the NATO meeting today. NATO is a vital relationship for the United States and for Europe," said Mr. Bush. "I look forward to meeting with the EU as well. And, I said in my speech yesterday, a strong Europe is very important to the United States, and I really meant that."

All 26 NATO members are taking part in the summit at alliance headquarters. Most of the heads of government in attendance will also join the talks at the EU.

The meetings are taking place under an unprecedented clsmpdown in the Belgian capital. Security is usually tight when high-level meetings are underway, but the presence of so many world leaders at one time has prompted the Belgian government to take extra precautions.

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