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EU, US Vow Support for Iraq's Interim Government - 2004-06-26

President Bush says the United States and the European Union stand together in their support for Iraq's new interim government, and he is urging NATO to step in with help for Iraqi security forces. He spoke after talks in Ireland with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who holds the rotating EU presidency and officials from the European Commission.

This is the president's second round of European summitry this month, all aimed, at least in part, on mending relationships frayed by the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush came here seeking backing for Iraq's interim government from the 25-member EU. At a joint news conference after the talks, he seemed pleased with the results.

"As Iraq moves towards the transfer of sovereignty next week, the EU and the United States are united in our determination to help the people of Iraq," said president Bush.

The U.S.-EU talks took place in a centuries old castle-turned-luxury hotel in County Clare in western Ireland. While a number of items were on the agenda for the talks - from terrorism to trade - Iraq was clearly the focus.

President Bush said he thinks the bitter differences of the war are over.

"We all agree that a democratic Iraq, a peaceful Iraq, an Iraq which has its territorial integrity intact is in all our benefit," he said.

Prime Minister Ahern, who is nearing the end of his six-month term at the helm of the European Union, has come under some criticism here in Ireland for his decision to permit U.S. warplanes to use Shannon airport. He stressed that the U.S.-EU relationship is both important and resilient.

"So the European Union and the United States share, ladies and gentlemen, a common set of values based on their unshakeable commitments to democracy, to human rights and the rule of law," said Mr. Ahern.

Earlier, the participants in the talks issued a joint statement. They endorsed the new Iraqi government, underscored their commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq, and backed the notion of a multinational force. They also stressed their support for reducing Iraq's foreign debt but offered no new initiatives.

In a way, this meeting with the EU was the prelude to the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, the focal point of the president's foreign trip. The Bush administration is urging the alliance to provide training for Iraqi security forces, and there are signs some kind of deal is in the offing.

The declaration issued by the U.S. and the European Union supports the training request. It does not specifically mention NATO. But it does endorse efforts to train and equip the Iraqis. President Bush left no doubt it's a priority.

"I hope NATO responds in a positive way because the ultimate success inside of Iraq is going to depend upon the ability of the Iraqi citizens to defend themselves," he said.

This is President Bush's first trip to the Republic of Ireland since taking office. And the reception from the Irish people stood in stark contrast to earlier visits by former presidents John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

They were met by large welcoming crowds. But this time, police were faced with protestors taking issue with the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

It was a huge security operation for Ireland, but the number of police and soldier involved is likely to be dwarfed by the size of the Turkish security force deployed during the NATO summit.