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Bush lands in Europe, aiming to mend ties
Updated: 2005-02-21 08:40

US President Bush sought to repair rocky relations with Europe, opening a visit Sunday to soothe allies embittered by the U.S.-led Iraq war and frustrated that their views were often ignored by the White House.

Bush, in a speech Monday, will urge allies to work together to advance freedom and democracy, particularly in the Middle East, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said on Air Force One as Bush flew here. Bush also will urge support for the Iraqi people.

"He'll talk about how this is a time to move beyond past differences and work in unity. He'll talk about how our strong friendship, our shared history and our common values are what unite us," McClellan said.

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrive at Brussels National Airport in Brussels, Belgium, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005. Bush will attend a meeting with NATO and European Union leaders and travel to Germany and Slovakia during his five-day European tour. [AP]
U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrive at Brussels National Airport in Brussels, Belgium, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005. Bush will attend a meeting with NATO and European Union leaders and travel to Germany and Slovakia during his five-day European tour. [AP]
Hoping to set a more conciliatory tone for his second term, Bush will meet over five days with some of his toughest critics: French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, both of whom fiercely opposed the U.S. led-invasion.

Bush also will see Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has alarmed the West with Moscow's retreat from democracy.

An alliance of 88 environmental, human rights, peace and other groups planned two days of protests in Brussels, beginning Monday, to demand "no European complicity" in a U.S.-designed world order.

Brussels police readied 2,500 officers — 1,000 more than the usual number for the three or four summit meetings that bring European Union leaders to the Belgian capital every year.

While seeking to move past old divisions, Bush and European leaders still face major differences.

Washington strongly opposes Europe's plans to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo against China. Bush has been cool toward Europe's negotiations to persuade Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. The White House prefers asking the U.N. Security Council to punish Tehran.

Hard feelings linger from Bush's opposition to the Kyoto climate change treaty and the International Criminal Court.

An issue where the allies may find common ground is a demand that Syria withdraw its forces from Lebanon — a declaration prompted by the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in a massive bombing in Beirut.

Courting France, the president has a private dinner Monday night with Chirac.

On Tuesday, Bush is attending NATO and EU meetings. Wednesday finds the president in Mainz, Germany, for a meeting with Schroeder. The trip ends Thursday with talks with Putin in Slovakia.

Bush's talks with the Russian president are the most important of the trip, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Putin "has come out very recently and said the Iranians are not producing nuclear weapons, it's only nuclear power, and, therefore, he's going to go ahead and continue helping them. And I think that's a stern conversation they need to have," Rockefeller told "Fox News Sunday."

The question on European minds is whether Bush, after offering olive branches during his visit, will put his conciliatory words into practice and engage in give-and-take diplomacy with allies. Many Europeans are skeptical.

"Clearly Bush has learned in his first term that there are limits to what America can do by itself," said Ivo Daalder, a European expert on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration.

"He only has to look at Iraq where 85 percent of the foreign troops, 90 percent of the casualties and 95 percent of the reconstruction dollars are American," Daalder said.

In a signal of unity, NATO is expected to announce Tuesday that all 26 allies finally have agreed to contribute to the alliance mission to train Iraq's armed forces, even though some will only work outside the country or just help cover costs.

The world's most powerful military alliance has struggled to find the 160 instructors it needs to complete the first phase of the operation, which offers training for senior officers within Baghdad's heavily guarded "Green Zone."

Across Europe, Bush is widely disliked. European perceptions of an arrogant America were symbolized for many people by photos of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

The hard feelings were aggravated over the last four years by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissal of Iraq critics as representing "old Europe" and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's statement that France should be punished and Germany ignored for opposing Bush.

Rice has improved relations recently by making Europe her first destination after being sworn in as secretary of state. Rumsfeld, too, suggested he has turned a new leaf by saying his earlier criticism came from the "old Rumsfeld."

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