(AP) - President Bush confronted high-stakes nuclear showdowns with North Korea and Iran and grisly news about U.S. war deaths Tuesday as he began a quick trip to strengthen ties with European allies unhappy about Iraq.
A week after Bush made a surprise, celebratory visit to Baghdad, he learned that two U.S. soldiers captured in Iraq had been found slain. They were killed by the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, an insurgent umbrella group said in a Web statement that suggested the servicemen had been beheaded, reports Trend.
"It's a reminder that this is a brutal enemy that does not follow any of the rules," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters on Air Force One on the way to Europe. White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "We are seeing evidence that the Iraqi people are also sick of this."
More than 2,500 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March, 2003.
On his 15th trip to Europe since taking office, Bush and his wife, Laura, were greeted by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. As Bush was driven to his hotel, curious onlookers, most of whom remained motionless and expressionless, gathered along Vienna's streets. One group struggled unsuccessfully to unfurl a "Go Home" banner from a restaurant balcony in time for it to be seen by occupants of the speeding motorcade.
Anti-Americanism is widespread in Europe where Bush is seen by many as a cowboy president who doesn't care about the concerns of other countries. The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib, allegations of a massacre of unarmed civilians by U.S. Marines at Haditha and reports of secret prisons for terror suspects have hurt America's image.
Bush is under political pressure at home, as well. Approval of his handling of Iraq had dropped to 33 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll this month. Hadley took issue with a debate in Congress about Iraq, saying that "there's been sort of a suggestion out there that somehow there's an open-ended commitment by the United States to Iraq."
He repeated Bush's oft-stated promise that as Iraqi troops are capable of defending their country, American forces will leave.
The president will hold several hours of talks Wednesday with leaders of the 25-nation European Union. Wednesday evening he will go to Budapest, Hungary, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising against communist rule. The president returns to Washington Thursday evening.
North Korea was a growing concern because of fears its government was preparing to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile. "They seem to be moving toward a launch, but the intelligence is not conclusive at this point," Hadley said.
He said North Korea seemed to feel that creating a sense of crisis brings attention that is helpful.
"A lot of folks are sending messages to the North Koreans this would be a bad idea, they shouldn't do it," Hadley said. "And a lot of countries are going to have ideas about what we do, should North Korea ignore the advice of the international community and go forward with this launch."
Iran was another problem. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have offered Iran incentives to impose a long-term moratorium on uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material for nuclear generators or bombs. Two weeks after receiving the proposal, Iran has not said yes or no.
Hadley said he was confident the U.S. and its partners were standing united. "If Iran does not accept this offer, then we return to the U.N. Security Council," he said.
Bush planned to press Europe to eliminate agricultural subsidies so that talks for a global free-trade pact can proceed. "If they can move in that direction," Hadley said, "we're going to be in the zone of getting an agreement by the end of the year."
The White House said Bush would prod nations to honor their pledges of reconstruction aid for Iraq. Of $13 billion promised, only $3 billion has been delivered, the administration says.
European leaders have their own concerns, many of them revolving around Iraq and the war on terror.
Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, was expected to urge Bush to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The White House said Bush wouldn't have anything new to say on that.
Bush has said he would like to close Guantanamo but some of its prisoners are too dangerous to set free and it's unclear what to do with others.
Bush was the first American president in 27 years to visit Austria.