VIENNA, Austria – President Bush won solid European support Wednesday for his handling of escalating nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran but was challenged over the Iraq war, the U.S. prison camp in Cuba and rising anti-American sentiment.
“That’s absurd,” Bush snapped at a news conference in response to a suggestion by a European journalist that the United States was regarded as the biggest threat to global security. “We’ll defend ourselves, but at the same time we’re actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy.
Unbidden, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel rose with an impassioned defense that seemed to surprise the president.
“I think it’s grotesque to say that America is a threat to the peace in the world compared with North Korea, Iran, a lot of countries,” Schuessel said. Europe would not enjoy peace and prosperity if not for U.S. help after World War II, he said.
“We should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic,” Schuessel said. “We should understand what September 11th meant to the American people.”
But the chancellor also prodded Bush.
“We can only have a victory in the fight against terror if we don’t undermine our common values,” Schuessel said. “It can never be a victory, a credible victory over terrorists if we give up our values: democracy, rule of law, individual rights.”
Bush came here for the annual summit of the United States and the 25-nation European Union at a time when favorable opinions of the U.S. have fallen across Europe.
About 1,200 students chanting “Bush Go Home!” marched through Vienna to a church square not far from Hofburg Palace where the leaders met. They were led by Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and energized the anti-war movement a year ago with a monthlong protest outside Bush’s Texas ranch.
Bush asked Europeans to look beyond their anger over the U.S. invasion of Iraq three years ago and support the country’s reconstruction.
“People have strong opinions on the subject. But what’s past is past, and what’s ahead is a hopeful democracy in the Middle East,” the president said.