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U.S. a bigger threat than Iran? Bush calls idea "absurd"
VIENNA, Austria — An angry-sounding President Bush said Wednesday it was "absurd" to call the United States a greater threat to world stability than Iran, despite a poll showing that's what many Europeans say.
Speaking after a summit in Vienna with leaders of the European Union (EU), Bush attributed Europeans' negative feelings to differences over the Iraq war and U.S. anti-terrorism efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"For Europe, September the 11th was a moment," Bush said. "For us, it was a change of thinking."
A June 13 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed that people in Great Britain, France and Spain say the U.S.-led war in Iraq is a greater threat to world peace than Iran's government and its nuclear program.
Bush and top officials from the EU united in demanding that Iran suspend uranium-enrichment programs that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. They also agreed that Iran should respond quickly to Bush's call for international negotiations designed to limit Iran's nuclear activities. And they insisted North Korea should not test a long-range missile, as it's threatening to do.
Bush and his hosts even put a harmonious facade on their differences over the U.S. detainment center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Bush told the Europeans he wants to close the detention center but must await a Supreme Court ruling on where trials should be held for the most violent among the prisoners there.
European leaders said they understood, even as they pushed for the center's closure and respect for human rights, even when waging the war on terrorism.
But the atmosphere of goodwill during Bush's meeting with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and other EU officials was tested when European reporters pressed Bush on widespread anti-American sentiment in Europe.
"I thought it was absurd for people to think that we're more dangerous than Iran," Bush snapped when asked, in general terms, about the poll results. His irritation grew when an Austrian reporter read him some specific poll numbers.
"Look, people didn't agree with my decision on Iraq, and I understand that. ... People can say what they want to say. But leadership requires making hard choices based upon principle," he said during a news conference in historic Hofburg Palace.
"Don't forget, I was born in 1945. ... I will never forget that America fed us," Schuessel said. "I think it's grotesque to say that America is a threat to the peace in the world compared with North Korea, Iran, other countries."
In Vienna, a few hundred students chanted "Bush Go Home" at a train-station rally. Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq and who has protested outside the president's ranch in Texas, led student protesters in Vienna.
The EU leaders spoke with one voice on Iran and North Korea.
They urged Iran to move quickly on international negotiations to resolve the nuclear dispute. Iranian leaders said Wednesday that they would respond to Bush's diplomatic overture by Aug. 22.
"It shouldn't take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable deal," Bush said, adding that he wants a response from Iran in "weeks, not months." The European leaders agreed with him.
"We've come to a crossroads on the Iran nuclear issue," Schuessel said. "Now is the right moment for Iran to take this offer, to grab it and to negotiate."
The Austrian chancellor also joined Bush in urging North Korea to drop plans to test a long-range missile.
U.S. officials say North Korea seems to be preparing tests on a missile that could conceivably deliver a nuclear warhead against the United States.
Schuessel, who went into the meeting with Bush prepared to criticize the detention center in Guantánamo, seemed surprised that Bush brought it up first. The European Parliament approved a resolution last week calling for the center's closure.
"He came up and said, 'Look, this is my problem, this is where we are,' " Schuessel said. "And I think we should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic. We should understand what September 11th meant to the American people."
Bush repeated his desire to close the center as soon as terrorism suspects can be brought to trial or returned to their home country.
He later flew to Budapest, Hungary, for another day built around his effort to explain the reasons for the Iraq war in the more politically friendly territory of post-communist Eastern Europe.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company