2006/06/22

World's No.1 Terrorist

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: June 21, 2006

VIENNA, June 21 — President Bush, visiting this central European city with the aim of promoting trans-Atlantic unity, instead issued an impassioned defense of his Iraq policy today amid pointed reminders of how far the United States has fallen in the eyes of many Europeans.

As the president met with President Heinz Fischer of Austria, hundreds marched with banners reading "World's No. 1 Terrorist."

"That's absurd!" Mr. Bush declared, dismissing a reporter's suggestion that most Europeans regard the United States as a bigger threat to global stability than North Korea, which has proclaimed it has nuclear weapons, and Iran, which is suspected of developing them.

Later, asked about polls showing Europeans have a low opinion of him, the president said: "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."

Mr. Bush's heated exchange with European reporters — under the glittering chandeliers of the marble-columned throne room in the Hofburg Palace, once the imperial home of the Hapsburgs — followed a summit meeting between the president and leaders of the European Union, who spent the morning talking about a wide range of issues, from nuclear tensions in North Korea to a faltering world trade agreement.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel of Austria, the current president of the European Union, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, stood by Mr. Bush's side at the news conference. At one point, Mr. Schüssel, stepped into defend Mr. Bush, recalling his own boyhood in post-World War II Vienna, when the city lay in ruins and Americans stepped in to help.

"I think we should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic," Mr. Schüssel said.

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