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Bush Praises Slovaks as 'Friends and Allies'


President Bush has hailed Slovaks as friends and allies in the global fight for freedom, and said the former communist country is an inspiration for the spread of democracy around the world.

Addressing a large crowd in the main square of Slovakia's capital, Bratislava, Thursday, Mr. Bush thanked the nation for taking great risks by deploying soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president said the Iraqis determination to vote in last month's elections has inspired the world, as did revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and in the Slovak capital 17-years ago.

Mr. Bush's comments come ahead of talks in Bratislava with Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. officials say Mr. Bush will raise concerns over Moscow's retreat from democratic reforms and its assistance to Iran in building a nuclear power plant.

Earlier Thursday after talks with Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda Mr. Bush expressed hope a diplomatic solution can be reached on Iran's nuclear program. He said the United States and Europe agree Tehran should not have atomic weapons.

Mr. Bush is on the final leg of a five-day European tour.