PRESIDENT George Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the Irish peace process at yesterday's joint press conference at Dromoland Castle. He said that he was aware that decisions had to be reached by September and that his administration was on hand to provide help if required.

Bush said during this visit he had inquired of the Taoiseach whether the Irish government was happy with the work of the US envoy to the process. He had been assured that the Irish government was happy with the performance of the envoy, Mitchell Reiss.

Bush also confirmed that his administration shared the concerns raised by the Taoiseach about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

"I told them both [the Taoiseach and EU Commission President Romano Prodi] that I was sick at what had happened, the reaction of those troops. I assured them that we will deal with it in a transparent way, " he said.

The president said that the US would stay as long as was necessary in Iraq following the transfer of power on 30 June.

He also said his government would continue to meet the threat posed by terrorism in the Middle Eastern state.

"We will meet the threat of the few who want to derail the ambitions of the many, " the US president said.

He rejected a suggestion that the poor image he enjoyed in Europe reflected badly on the US.

"The only poll I'm really concerned about is the one in November, " he said, referring to the forthcoming election for US president.

He pointed out that there was $2.2 trillion worth of trade between the US and the EU and all he was really worried about was doing his job.

"I'm gonna do it the way I think is necessary, " he said.

President Prodi noted that this would be his last press conference in his current position and noted that the Irish presidency of the union had been "skilful".

In attempting to confirm a candidate to succeed Prodi, the Taoiseach said he was returning to Dublin to make a series of phone calls to EU leaders last night with a view to having a decision by Tuesday.

The Portuguese prime minister Jose Manual Durao Barroso is currently understood to be a hot favourite for the position.

Immediately following the press conference, the US party left for Shannon Airport in the presidential motorcade, from where they flew on to Turkey, taking off just after 3.30pm yesterday.

Earlier in the day, following the EU/US summit at the castle, seven joint declarations were issued covering terrorism, the Middle East, AIDS and weapon proliferation.

At a courtesy call in the morning, President Mary McAleese expressed concern on behalf of the Irish people at the treatment of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.