MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Paris today, President Bush delivered what amounted to valedictory speech, looking back at U.S. and European relations over time in the White House. He laid out the challenges ahead, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Bush's on what he says will be his final trip to Europe as president and his day began in Rome meeting with the pope.
NPR's Don Gonyea has this report.
DON GONYEA: Make no mistake, President Bush likes the Vatican. He visited John Paul II there twice. Today saw his second meeting inside the Holy See with Benedict XVI. The greeting was unusually casual, with Mr. Bush saying, upon seeing the pope, You're eminence, you're looking good. After a private meeting, they stepped outside, where Benedict escorted Mr. Bush on a sunlit walk to through lush Vatican gardens. The pope took him to the grotto, where a Vatican spokesman says the pope prays most every day. Once there, they were joined by First Lady Laura Bush. The men and boys of the Sistine Choir sang, competing at times with the sounds of birds in the trees.
(Soundbite of singing)
DON GONYEA: There was an exchange of gifts, Mr. Bush presenting a photograph of himself and the pontiff strolling along the White House colonnade during the pope's April U.S. visit. Benedict presented the president with a set of books about St. Peter's Basilica. Then, a few hours later, the president was in Paris, where he gave the only speech of this European trip.
He commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II. And speaking to an economic gathering, he delivered what amounted to a mini-State of the Union regarding U.S./European relations during his time in office. That time has been marked by serious differences over the war in Iraq and over such issues as global warming. But the president alluded only generally to such disputes. He said disagreement has always been part of the transatlantic relationship.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: From the Suez Crisis in the 1950s to the basing of missiles in Europe in the 1980s, yet with the distance of time we can see these differences for what they were - fleeting disagreements between friends.
GONYEA: The president used this speech to highlight what he called recent success in Iraq and in the spread of freedom over his time as president.
President BUSH: We've seen former members of the Warsaw Pact proudly sign the treaty to join NATO. We witnessed an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, a Rose Revolution in Georgia, a declaration of independence in Kosovo, and the rise of a democratic movement in Belarus.
GONYEA: He called on European nations to continue to support Iraq, and he urged them to commit more aid to Afghanistan, where the government is struggling in the face of a resurgent Taliban. The president looked ahead to a time when he leaves the White House.
President BUSH: And when the times to welcome the new American president next January, I will be pleased to report to him that the relationship between the United States and Europe is the broadest and most vibrant it has ever been.
GONYEA: Still to come for the president on this trip are stops in London and Belfast before bidding an official farewell to Europe and to the mixed relationship he's had with the continent.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Paris.
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