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Bush Wraps Up European Tour Aimed at Mending Trans-Atlantic Ties

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President Bush is on his way home after a five-day European tour aimed at mending trans-Atlantic ties, frayed by the war in Iraq. Before leaving for Washington Mr. Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia

The issue that dominated the talks in Bratislava was Russia's commitment to democracy.

President Bush says he brought up a number of concerns involving the rule of law and individual freedoms. "I did so in a constructive and friendly way. I reaffirmed my belief that it is democracy and freedom that bring true security and prosperity in every land," he said.

The Russian leader says they discussed the matter at length, and face-to-face. He says Russia made its decision to become a democracy 14 years ago, and there is no turning back. "Any kind of turn towards totalitarianism for Russia would be impossible, due to the condition of the Russian society," he said.

The two leaders spoke at a news conference where some reporters engaged them in a debate on press freedom. In one way or another, all the questions dealt with the democracy issue. But the talks did cover other matters, reflecting the need for the two countries to work together, despite their differences.

They agreed on the need to deal with Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and to improve security at U.S and Russian nuclear installations. During the summit, the two countries also signed a deal to curtail the spread of shoulder-fired missiles, the type of systems that could be used by terrorists to shoot down planes.

President Bush said he and Mr. Putin have developed a relationship this is frank, candid and open. "We may not always agree with each other, and we haven't over the last four years, that is for certain, but we found a lot of agreement, a lot of common ground, and the world is better for it," he said.

Mr. Bush set the stage for his talks with President Putin earlier in the day, when he addressed the people of Slovakia, and praised the democratic change that has transformed the former Soviet bloc.

He spoke in Bratislava's main square, packed with Slovaks who had braved the elements on a blustery winter day. The president recalled their triumph over communist rule, hailed their entry into NATO and the European Union, and cited the example they have set for others. "Every Slovak can be proud of these achievements. And the American people are proud to call you allies and friends and brothers in the cause of freedom," he said.

It was the first trip ever by a U.S. president to Slovakia. Mr. Bush noted this fairly new democracy has sent peacekeepers to Kosovo, election observers to Ukraine, and 100 troops to Iraq. He said the Slovak people are showing the power of a small nation to spread liberty around the world.

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