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Bush Seeks to Strengthen Ties During European Visit

President Bush says he hopes to strengthen ties with Europe and bury past differences during his upcoming trip to Belgium, Germany and the Slovak Republic.

Mr. Bush will try to ease tensions exacerbated by the war in Iraq. "My first goal is to remind both Americans and Europeans that the transatlantic relationship is very important for our mutual security and for peace, and that we have differences sometimes, but we don't differ on values, that we share this great love and respect for freedom," he said.

At a news conference Thursday, the president said both sides have to keep in mind the need to work together to "achieve great objectives." He said those objectives go beyond security matters. "I'm looking forward to discussing issues that not only relate to our security, that not only relate to how we work together to spread freedom, how we continue to embrace the values we believe in, but also how we deal with hunger and disease and environmental concerns," he said.

Mr. Bush will leave Washington Sunday for Brussels, Belgium for three days of talks with allies, including some who have been critical of his policies. He will confer with NATO officials, and will have extensive consultations with leaders of the European Union.

The president's new national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, says they will discuss new challenges. "Among these challenges are finding new ways to support the new governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, advancing an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and spreading freedom and democracy to parts of the world that have known too little of both," he said.

From Brussels, President Bush will travel to Mainz, Germany for talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. His final stop will be Bratislava, Slovakia, where he will confer with Slovak officials and meet separately with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The trip follows a visit to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which focused on improving transatlantic relations. No major breakthroughs are expected during the president's visit, which may be more important for its tone and symbolism than its substance, from a private dinner with French President Jacques Chirac, a leading critic of the Iraq war, to a meeting with the Russian president in a country that was once part of the Soviet bloc.