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'Bitter differences' are over between U.S., EU, Bush says

NEWMARKET-ON-FERGUS, Ireland - European Union leaders presented President Bush yesterday with a list of grievances, including abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but both sides insisted that U.S. relations with its European allies are on the mend.

With Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at his side outside Dromoland Castle, Bush proclaimed that "the bitter differences of the war are over."

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"Some people didn't agree with the decisions I made and others made as well," Bush said after a summit with European Union leaders in Ireland, which is ending a six-month term as the body's rotating president. "But we all agree that a democratic Iraq and a peaceful Iraq and an Iraq which has its territory intact is in all our benefit."

Bush's visit - his last major diplomatic mission before the November elections - was met with widespread protests across Ireland, reflecting the president's poor standing with the European public.

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"I care about the image of our country," Bush said about the protests. "As far as my personal standing goes, my job is to do my job. I'm going to do it the way I think is necessary. I'm going to set a vision, I will lead, and we'll let the chips fall where they may."

Ahern said he and Irish President Mary McAleese expressed concerns to Bush during private meetings about abuse of Iraqi and Afghan prisoners by U.S. personnel, saying it was not the first time they had raised such issues.

Ahern did not say how Bush responded, but added: "The questions were answered, as far as we were concerned, to our satisfaction."

Protests around Dromoland Castle closed down roads, delaying the arrival of Bush, Ahern and European Commission President Romano Prodi. The protesters were kept away from the castle and its visitors.

The summit was the first of two Bush is attending this weekend in an effort to improve relations with allies, many of whom disagreed with his decision to invade Iraq.

Despite public assurances that those disagreements are in the past, leaders who opposed the war now find themselves facing a tough decision. If they continue to confront Bush, they risk further alienating a president who may win re-election in the fall. But if they are conciliatory, they risk angering their electorates, many of whom oppose the war.

As a result, few observers expected significant movement on major areas of dispute, and none was announced. The two sides did conclude an agreement that will link the satellite navigation systems each operates - GPS in the United States and Galileo in Europe - to form an integrated system in 2008. They also released other declarations on increasing trade, enhancing travel security, improving intelligence sharing and promoting peace in Sudan.

Bush expressed hope that NATO leaders meeting in Turkey starting today will agree at least to provide training and equipment for Iraqi forces.

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

"NATO has the capability - and I believe the responsibility - to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that's facing their country," Bush said.

After the summit in Ireland, Bush flew to Ankara, Turkey, for meetings with Turkish leaders before the NATO summit in Istanbul.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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