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Amid growing criticism from several countries over the treatment of prisoners of war, President Bush, following a one-day U.S.-EU summit in Vienna, said he hoped "to end Guantanamo." European policy experts discuss the reasons behind lagging U.S. popularity in Europe.
Bush, Bush, Bush, go home!
Hundreds of anti-U.S. demonstrators took to the streets of Vienna today, protesting President Bush's visit to the Austrian capital. The atmosphere seemed more congenial inside the Hofburg Palace, where President Bush met with Europe's top leaders at the annual U.S.-European Union summit.
At a press conference afterwards, President Bush volunteered that he'd tried to address one of the contentious issues raised by the Europeans: the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I also shared with them my deep desire to end this program, but also I assured them that we will — not going to let people out on the street that will do you harm.
In a similar spirit, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel thanked President Bush for agreeing to join the E.U.'s talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
CHANCELLOR WOLFGANG SCHUSSEL, Austria:
I told President George Bush how much we appreciate his constructive role in this particularly sensitive situation.
But reporters confronted President Bush with surveys showing he and the United States are increasingly unpopular in Europe. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center in four European countries show that favorable opinion of the United States had dropped by as much as half since 2002.
And Europeans' confidence in President Bush to do the right thing in world affairs stood at rock-bottom levels: from 7 percent in Spain to a high of 30 percent in Britain.
President Bush, you've got Iran's nuclear program, you've got North Korea, yet most Europeans consider the United States the biggest threat to global stability. Do you have any regrets about that?
GEORGE W. BUSH:
That's absurd. We'll defend ourselves, but at the same times we're actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy. So whoever says that is — it's an absurd statement.
Mr. President, you said this is absurd, but you might be aware that, in Europe, the image of America is still falling, and dramatically in some areas.
Let me give you some numbers. In Austria, in this country, only 14 percent of the people believe that the United States, what they are doing is good for peace; 64 percent think that it is bad.
In the United Kingdom, your ally, there are more citizens who believe that the United States policy under your leadership is helping to destabilize the world than Iran. So my question to you is: Why do you think that you've failed so badly to convince Europeans to win their heads, and hearts, and minds? Thank you.
Well, yes, I thought it was absurd for people to think that we're more dangerous than Iran.
I, you know, it's — we're a transparent democracy. People know exactly what's on our mind. We debate things in the open. We've got a legislative process that's active.
Look, people didn't agree with my decision on Iraq, and I understand that. For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us, it was a change of thinking. And I vowed to the American people I would do everything I could to defend our people, and will.
I don't govern by polls, you know. I just do what I think is right. And I understand some of the decisions I've made are controversial. But I made them in the best interest of our country and, I think, in the best interests of the world.
I think Austria is a really good example to show that America has something to do with freedom, democracy, prosperity, development.
Don't forget, I was born in '45. At that time, Vienna and half of Austria laid in ruins. It meant, without the participation of America, what fate would have Europe? Where would be Europe today? Not the peaceful, prosperous Europe like we love it and where we live.
So I think it's grotesque to say that America is a threat to the peace in the world compared with North Korea, Iran, of other countries. The problem is — and I will be very frank on that, and I said it the same way like we did it here, and we say it now — we can only have victory in the fight against terror if we don't undermine our common values.
It can never be a victory, a credible victory, over terrorists if we give up our values: democracy; rule of law; individual rights. This is important to know.
After briefly touring Vienna, the president flew to Budapest to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation.
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