Sat Feb 19, 2:03 PM ET
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush (news - web sites) says he has no bitterness toward French President Jacques Chirac after their tussle over Iraq (news - web sites), but he is taking issue with a Chirac notion that a united Europe would serve as a counterbalance to the United States. In run-up to his trip to Europe, Bush underscored in media interviews with European journalists his second-term drive to foster improved trans-Atlantic relations and work on common problems like Iraqi reconstruction, Iran, Syria and the Middle East peace process.
"I know we had a difference of opinion," Bush said of U.S.-European strains over the Iraq war. "And it was a big difference of opinion on Iraq. But now is the time for us to set aside that difference and to move forward in areas where we can work together."
Bush did not shy away from some differences with Europe, but he did seem to strike a less confrontational tone than he has in the past.
"I don't feel bitter, personally," Bush said of Chirac, who was the chief Iraq war opponent in Europe. Bush and Chirac will have a working dinner in Brussels.
Bush questioned the Chirac-advocated idea of the need for a "multipolar world," diplomatic code language for a united Europe balancing out the United States.
"Some have said, 'Well, we must have a unified Europe to balance America.' Why, when in fact we share values and goals? ... Why don't we view this as a moment where we can move forward in a concerted fashion to achieve those goals?"
Bush said in his weekly radio address that America and Europe had much in common as "pillars of the free world."
"We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe," he said. In the media interviews, Bush did, however, take exception to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's recent comment that NATO (news - web sites) was no longer "the primary venue" for trans-Atlantic dialogue. Schroeder called for outside experts to suggest how the alliance could be more relevant in the post-Cold War world.
"I think NATO is vital," Bush said. "And I think it's a vital relationship and one that we'll work to keep strong."
Bush, who will meet with Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia on Thursday, said his "good relationship" with the Russian leader would "give me a chance to say in private -- ask him why he's been making some of the decisions he's been making."
"He's done some things that has concerned people," Bush told Slovak state television.
"I will make clear that one of my top priorities is to reduce the remaining European barriers to U.S. agricultural goods," he said.
International farm subsidies are a central point of contention in the Doha round talks of the World Trade Organization (news - web sites). The talks, named after the Qatari city where they were launched in 2001, are running well behind schedule. (Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Caren Bohan)