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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Seeks Thaw While Talking Tough

BRUSSELS -- U.S. President George W. Bush, on a trip to thaw relations with Europe, prodded Russia not turn its back on democratic advances. He also demanded that Iran give up its nuclear ambitions and told Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Bush's speech, during his five-day trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia, was aimed at both U.S. and European audiences. "In a new century, the alliance of America and Europe is the main pillar of our security," he said. He used the word "alliance" 12 times in the speech to underscore his aim to repair relations with Europe that were frayed over the war in Iraq. But not all of his speech was conciliatory.

The American president has been pushing President Vladimir Putin -- some say not strongly enough -- to work toward, not away from, democratic reforms and transparency in government.

"We recognize that reform will not happen overnight," Bush said, just three days before he meets with Putin in Slovakia. "We must always remind Russia that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law. The United States should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia."

He also had direct words for Syria, calling for a withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon. As Bush spoke, thousands of opposition supporters in Beirut demanded the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syrian government, a week after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's most prominent politician.

"The Lebanese people have the right to be free, and the United States and Europe share an interest in an independent, democratic Lebanon," he said. If Syrians stay out of Lebanon's parliamentary elections in the spring, the vote "can be another milestone of liberty," Bush said.

The call came as Arab League chief Amr Moussa said Syrian President Bashar Assad told him Damascus would soon work toward withdrawing its forces in line with the Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

On Iran, Bush said the United States was working with European allies Britain, France and Germany in the "early stages of diplomacy." Bush failed to note that the United States is not fully backing the Europeans' approach to offer Iran economic and political incentives not to develop nuclear arms.

The president also had pointed advice for two pivotal U.S. allies in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future," Bush said, urging greater movement toward giving Saudis more political freedom.

"The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," Bush said.

He sought unity on Iraq, saying, "All nations now have an interest in the success of a free and democratic Iraq, which will fight terror, which will be a beacon of freedom and which will be a source of true stability in the region."

Bush also called for U.S.-European cooperation that would "raise the flag of a free Palestine."