| Bush with Schroeder in Mainz, Germany. (Reuters)
Mainz (Germany), Feb. 23 (Reuters): Putting their nasty row over Iraq behind them, President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder today vowed to foster a partnership they said was vital to the transatlantic alliance.
Side-by-side at a press conference in Mainz, where Bush's father once called on West Germany to play a bigger role in the world and become a 'partner in leadership', the tone was warm although the talk of past division was frank.
'Europe is America's closest ally,' Bush said on the second stop of a European tour. 'In order for us to have good relations with Europe we have to have good relations with Germany.'
It was a flat rejection of his administration's jibe about 'old Europe', when Washington ignored objections from Berlin and Paris and invaded Iraq with help from smaller European states.
'No one is denying there were differences in the past. But that is the past,' insisted Schroeder, who angered the White House by tapping anti-Bush sentiment to win re-election in 2002.
Bush offered some of his most conciliatory remarks of a trip that he noted was deliberately given priority as he starts his own second term. He flew in from Brussels after two days with European and Nato leaders and will reach Slovakia for a summit tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Among areas of cooperation Bush stressed were efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons. And he thanked Germany for helping Iraqis by training police and forgiving debts.
Schroeder, too, highlighted the positive, praising a new commitment he perceived in Bush's efforts to help resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ahead of Bush's visit there were concerns in Europe that differences over how to handle Iran's nuclear programme would strain ties further.
But comments in Brussels and Mainz seemed to suggest at least a softening of Washington's tone. Bush continues to say he cannot rule out military options against Tehran, but he has repeatedly expressed a preference for diplomacy in recent days.
'Iran is not Iraq,' Bush said today. 'We just started the diplomatic efforts and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead. We will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions.'
Britain, France and Germany are offering Tehran economic incentives in exchange for limitations on its nuclear programme, which Tehran denies has a military purpose. While endorsing those talks, Bush has refused European requests to join them.
Bush today also reiterated demands that Syria withdraw from Lebanon, but said he would wait for their response before possibly seeking UN sanctions.