Faced with protests in the streets of Berlin and rising skepticism from European leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush made a passionate plea for Europe not to waver in the face of global terrorism.
Berlin, 23 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Recalling past U.S. presidents in Berlin who stared down the Soviet threat across the Iron Curtain, George W. Bush told the German Bundestag today that after 11 September, Europe and America face a new threat that must to keep them united despite differences -- the threat of international terrorism.
To cheers but also some jeers from lawmakers in Germany's lower house of parliament, where many oppose a widening of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Bush said that terrorists bent on "murder on a massive scale" are threatening the very freedom that West Berliners struggled so hard to maintain against Soviet totalitarianism throughout the Cold War.
He recalled the legendary words of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whose 1963 "I'm a Berliner" speech in West Berlin gave hope to their island of freedom in a sea of East German communism.
And he remembered President Ronald Reagan's 1987 speech in Berlin, when he stood at the Iron Curtain at the Brandenburg Gate and told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Bush said ignoring terrorism today may provide comfort, but not security: "Those who seek missiles and terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe. Like the threats of another era, this threat cannot be appeased or cannot be ignored. By being patient, relentless, and resolute we will defeat the enemies of freedom."
But Bush also looked to the future. He said that NATO's expected expansion to include several former Soviet-bloc countries next fall was of historic significance: "The expansion of NATO will also extend the security on this continent, especially for nations that knew little peace or security in the last century. We've moved cautiously in this direction. Now, we must act decisively. As our [NATO] summit in Prague approaches, America is committed to NATO membership for all of Europe's democracies that are ready to share in the responsibilities that NATO brings."
And he said an arms control treaty that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin will sign tomorrow in Moscow is yet another signal that Russia is finally moving toward joining the European family of nations: "Russia's transformation is not finished. The outcome is not yet determined. But for all the problems and challenges, Russia is moving toward freedom -- more freedom in its politics and its markets, freedom that will help Russia to act as a great and just power. A Russia at peace with its neighbors, respecting the legitimate rights of minorities, is welcome in Europe."
However, after being greeted in Berlin yesterday by massive street demonstrations protesting against his policies, Bush also met with pointed criticism before his speech in opening remarks to the Bundestag by its president. Wolfgang Thierse brought up several European concerns -- such as the so-called "unilateralism" in U.S. foreign policy, as well as Bush's record on the environment -- and said he hoped to see more cooperation from Washington.
But Bush sought to play down recent policy disputes with European leaders who have criticized the White House's decision to tax steel imports and not sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming or back the creation of the International Criminal Court.
Instead, Bush said America and Europe shared fundamental values of enlightened humanism -- a common heritage that no disagreement could ever erase.
But Bush's major theme was terrorism. And he made every effort to persuade Germany's lawmakers that the war on terrorism in not just an American affair -- that the September attacks on New York and Washington could some day be repeated in cities across Europe. For that reason, Bush said, Europe and America cannot wait for the next attack before they act strongly against terrorists.
Earlier today at a news conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bush said the U.S. considers Iraq a major threat but vowed he would consult with allies before making a decision on any action: "The world knows my position about [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein. He is a dangerous man. He is a dictator who gassed his own people. He has had a history of incredible human rights violations, and you know, it's dangerous to think of a scenario in which a country like Iraq would team up with an Al-Qaeda-type organization."
But in a telling sign, Bush won a warm round of applause from the Bundestag lawmakers when he said he had no plans on his desk for an attack on Iraq, which the U.S. accuses of seeking arms of mass destruction. European leaders are concerned about the destabilizing effects a war on Iraq could have on an already volatile region.