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U.S., Italy Strategic Partners in Spread of Democracy, Bush Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2006 – The strategic partnership between the U.S. and Italy is an important component in helping spread democracy and peace, President Bush said here today after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"We discussed Iraq and the need for strong allies to continue to support the democracy movement there," Bush said at the White House. "This strategic relationship is important for both our peoples and it's important to help lay the foundations for peace."

Berlusconi echoed Bush's sentiment about the importance of spreading the democratic values that both countries share.

"It is only through democracy there can be freedom, and only through freedom can human beings give the best of themselves," the prime minister said. "As President Bush has said, that only if all democratic states join together, we can bring democracy and peace all over the world."

Bush added that his personal relationship with Berlusconi has helped because it is built on shared principles and trust.

"A personal relationship is based upon mutual trust. I have found Silvio to be a person of his word," Bush said. "I like somebody who makes up his mind based upon principle."

Italian troops are currently serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but Italy has a prospective plan in place to withdraw its 3,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year. Berlusconi said that Italian forces have already trained 10,000 Iraqi law enforcement personnel.

"We have, all together with our allies, trained the Iraqi troops and Iraqi soldiers and the law enforcement so that the Iraqi government itself will be able to guarantee the security of its people through their own forces," Berlusconi said.

When asked about recent sectarian violence in Iraq and if he feared the outbreak of "an all-out civil war," Bush said that the people of Iraq and their leaders must choose unity in order to stem chaos.

"Obviously, there are some who are trying to sow the seeds of sectarian violence. They want to ... destroy in order to create chaos," Bush said. "And now the people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice. The choice is a free society or a society dictated by the evil people who will kill innocents."

The president said the December elections were a clear indicator that the Iraqi people want a unified and peaceful country. "Last December, 11 million people, in defiance of the terrorists and the killers, went to the polls and said, 'We want to be free,'" he said.

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