Tackling a range of issues in their Brussels meeting, including a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, EU arm sales to China, Iran’s nuclear build-up, the Middle East peace process, Russia’s continued moves away from democracy, and of course Iraq, President Bush voiced a desire on the part of the US to treat Europe as a serious partner.

Relations between the two presidents have never been easy, but French officials insist they have remained cordial despite the angry exchanges between Paris and Washington over the Iraq war.

President Bush said he wasn’t “bitter” about France’s opposition to the Iraq war, and ahead of his arrival in Belgium on Sunday he expressed hope his fence-mending trip to Europe would promote joint action on key issues.

“Obviously, nice words are nice, but deeds are more important than words. I, personally, don’t feel bitter,” Mr Bush told reporters.

“But now is the time for us to set aside that difference and to move forward in areas where we can work together”, he said.

The two leaders were smiling as they met in Brussels, but did not appear relaxed.

Mr Bush said he was happy to be dining with Mr Chirac, but when asked if he would invite the French leader to the US and to his Texas ranch, he dodged the question, saying: “I’m looking for a good cowboy.”

The main course of discussion centred on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The leaders issued a tough joint statement condemning the killing and calling on all Syrian troops to be withdrawn from Lebanon.

“We support the UN investigation into this terrorist act and urge the full cooperation of all parties in order to identify those responsible for this act,” says the joint statement, issued by the White House.

“We urge full and immediate implementation of UNSCR 1559 in all its aspects,” it added, referring to the UN Security Council resolution adopted in September which calls for the immediate retreat of all foreign forces in Lebanon.

Other issues due to be tackled include Iran’s nuclear program, which Washington has alleged is aimed at building an atomic bomb.

France also wants to stop Iran gaining nuclear arms, leading efforts with Germany and Britain to cajole Tehran back into compliance with international nuclear accords by offering lucrative trade deals.

But Washington has so far refused to rule out the military option.

Mr Bush claimed the US and Europe will never be divided, condoning the current negotiations by the European nations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr Bush called on Russia to embrace a more democratic path, ahead of a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

He also held talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who along with President Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, led opposition to the Iraq war.

Joining in with the spirit of reconciliation, Mr Verhofstadt told a gala audience at an event attended by Mr Bush in the old Concert Noble ballroom in Brussels that the divisions over Iraq are now a thing of the past.

“The time has come to draw a line under the tensions of the recent past,” he said, introducing Mr Bush who will attend summits with NATO and European Union leaders on Tuesday.

But in a seemingly erosive attempt to harm the US efforts at reconciliation, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, earlier warned grimly in an interview that: “Iraq is not over”.

US officials have hailed the reception given to Mr Bush’s speeches, which won several rounds of applause and a standing ovations thus far on his European tour.

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