President Bush is calling for the release of five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya. He spoke after talks at the White House with Bulgaria's president, Georgi Parvanov.
President Parvanov came to Washington, in large part, to urge the United States to put pressure on the Libyans to spare the nurses and set them free.
The nurses were recruited to work in a Libyan hospital, where hundreds of children became infected with the AIDS virus. Experts in the disease cite poor sanitary conditions in the facility. But Libyan courts have ruled the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor infected the children, allegedly to undermine state security, and sentenced them to death. They all deny the charge.
The Libyan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear their final appeal on November 15th. President Bush says America's position is clear: "The position of the United States government is the nurses ought to be freed."
During a brief session with reporters, Mr. Bush stressed his stand is firm, and his views are well known in Tripoli: "Those nurses ought to not only be spared their lives, but out of prison."
Mr. Bush said the issue was discussed at length during his talks with President Parvanov, along with regional and bilateral matters. He spoke of Bulgaria as a strategic ally and a valued partner, making special mention of the Bulgarian forces serving in Iraq.
He said Bulgaria is a young democracy that is setting an example for others by settling disputes through the political process. He said the just completed constitutional referendum in Iraq shows many Iraqis want to follow that path. He cited reports that voter turnout, especially among Sunnis, was much higher than seen during the January election for a provisional assembly.
Mr. Bush said, "My first reaction to the vote was that an increase in turnout was an indication that the Iraqi people are strongly in favor of settling disputes in a peaceful way."
He said it is a sign the Iraqis understand that working to find common ground is much better than putting their fate in the hands of insurgents who kill innocent women and children in order to create havoc: "The idea that people are willing to try to work out their political differences through a process, a peaceful process, stands in stark
contrast to the al-Qaida types and the terrorists and the killers that are trying to drive the process through violence."
He said the referendum marked "a hopeful day for peace" and an exciting day for a country that only a few years ago was ruled by a "tyrant."