David Morgan / Reuters – 2004-12-17 22:59:04
WASHINGTON (December 15, 2004) — President Bush on Wednesday warned Iran and Syria not to meddle in Iraq ahead of elections scheduled for January 30 and voiced new hopes of forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
At a White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bush urged Iraq’s neighbors to help the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi by enforcing border security restrictions in an effort to keep money and arms out of the hands of insurgents.
“We will continue to make it clear to both Syria and Iran that … meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interests,” Bush told reporters.
He spoke after Iraq’s interim defense minister earlier Wednesday accused the two countries of aiding al Qaeda Islamist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and former agents of Saddam Hussein to promote an insurgency that has intensified in recent weeks.
Iran and Syria deny any links to the Iraqi insurgents battling Iraqi security and U.S.-led international forces.
“We expect there to be help in establishing a society in which people are able to elect their leaders,” the president said. “We expect people to work with the Iraqi interim government to enforce borders to stop the flow of people and money that aim to help these terrorists.”
Middle East Optimism
Bush and Berlusconi, who met for more than an hour in the Oval Office, also voiced optimism about peace in the Middle East a day after former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called on his people to pursue negotiations rather than violence in their quest for statehood.
Abbas is favored to win a Jan. 9 election to replace the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. “There’s a very good chance that we can achieve that peace. I look forward to working toward that end,” Bush said. Added Berlusconi: “We agreed on the fact that it is now the appropriate time to solve the Middle East issue.”
Neither leader mentioned Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s urging for a Middle East summit on peace that would include roles for both the United States and European Union.
Berlusconi, one of Washington’s closest European allies, pledged wide-ranging support for a second-term Bush agenda that calls for continued backing for Iraq and Afghanistan and the promotion of democratic reform in the greater Middle East.
“President Bush tells me and all of the others always what’s in his mind. And it is very positive that ‘yes’ means really ‘yes’ to him and ‘no’ means ‘no’,” the Italian leader said through an English interpreter.
Meanwhile, Bush praised Berlusconi’s leadership five days after a Milan court dropped criminal corruption charges against the Italian prime minister after ruling that the statute of limitations had run out
“He’s the kind of man, when he gives you his word, he keeps his word, which is the sign of an impressive, strong leader,” Bush said.
Berlusconi promised to help Bush mend strained U.S. relations with European countries, where the U.S. president is unpopular. Bush is expected to visit Europe in February.
“I wanted to reassure President Bush that I will do any possible effort to strengthen the relationship between the United States of America and Europe, because I agree with him, the West is only one,” Berlusconi said.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland)
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