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Bush Says NATO Leaders Agree to Put Aside Past Disputes

President Bush says America's commitment to NATO is strong, and vows to listen to the concerns of alliance members. 

European commentators refer to the president's European tour as a charm offensive.  Mr. Bush uses another term.

"You might call this a listening tour," he said.

Those were words critics of his Iraq policy have been waiting to hear.  At a news conference at NATO headquarters, Mr. Bush said he strongly believes he did the right thing in invading Iraq, but he added he understands why some Europeans did not agree.

"The major issue that irritated a lot of Europeans was Iraq.  I understand that.  I can figure it out.  And the key now is to put that behind us," he added.

President Bush spoke about the historic ties that bind the United States and Europe, and said it is only fitting that his first major stop on his European tour would be NATO headquarters.  He called it the most successful alliance in the history of the world.

"The relationship between the United States and Europe is a vital relationship, a necessary relationship, an important relationship, and our relationship within NATO is the cornerstone of that relationship," noted Mr. Bush.

He said NATO must and will evolve to face new challenges and better serve the members of the alliance.  And he welcomed the announcement that all 26 members will contribute in one way or another to the training of Iraqi security forces.  Some contributions will be small, but the president said they are far from symbolic.

"Every contribution matters,” he said. “26 nations sitting around that table said it is important for NATO to be involved in Iraq.  It is a strong statement."

Mr. Bush described his discussions with NATO leaders as a healthy dialogue.  Standing by his side, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would be looking at proposals to make greater use of the alliance as a forum for dealing with political, as well as military, issues.

"If NATO wants to go on keeping the public parliamentary support for its operations and for its missions, we really need to discuss key political questions surrounding those operations and missions," said Mr. Scheffer.

The NATO chief said as the alliance takes on a greater role in non-member countries, such as Afghanistan, those political discussions will become even more crucial.

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