President Bush heads to Europe Monday for the annual meeting of the leaders of the world's major industrialized nations, the G8 summit. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns previews Mr. Bush's trip.
The president's first stop is Prague, where he will meet with Czech leaders to discuss their contributions to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe.
That system is likely to be one of the most controversial topics of the president's trip. Russian President Vladimir Putin says Mr. Bush's plans to deploy the system signal the beginning of another arms race and Russia will not be left behind.
U.S. National Security Adviser Steve Hadley says the Bush Administration has repeatedly sought to reassure Moscow that the missile defense system is not about Russia.
"The systems we would deploy do not have capability of any significant character against Russian ICBMs destined for the - that are aimed at the United States. Just doesn't have any capability. It's a very limited capability about other states, like Iran, who are developing ballistic missiles and potentially the weapons of mass destruction that those missiles could deliver," he said. "So it's all about Iran."
Hadley says U.S. officials have been trying to convince Moscow for at least 18 years that they should view missile defense as an element of long-term security and an area of productive cooperation with the United States.
After Prague, President Bush goes to Germany Wednesday, where he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a reception for the heads of state attending the annual Group of Eight summit of leading industrialized nations. The meeting will be held in the northern German city of Heiligendamm, a seaside resort on the Baltic Sea.
That summit formally gets under way Thursday with G8 leaders expected to discuss, among other topics, climate change and global trade talks. They will also meet with several African heads of state and leaders of the so-called G8 outreach countries: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa.
While at the summit, President Bush will hold private meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and President Putin.
Along with missile defense, the meeting with Mr. Putin is also expected to focus on the future of Kosovo. It will be President Bush's last formal meeting with Prime Minister Blair before he steps down later this month and his first with President Sarkozy since the new French leader took office.
President Bush then makes a brief stop in Poland, where he will discuss plans for the missile defense system before flying on to Rome to meet with Italian leaders for talks about Afghanistan, the Balkans, Lebanon, Kosovo, and Iran.
During the stop in Rome, the president and first lady will meet for the first time with Pope Benedict.
Mr. and Mrs. Bush then travel to Tirana, where he will be the first sitting U.S. President to make an official visit to Albania. National Security Adviser Hadley says Mr. Bush, in addition to meeting with Albanian leaders, will also hold talks with the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia. Hadley says the president plans to focus in his talks on the future of Kosovo and the desire of Albania to join NATO.
"He shares the dream of Albania as a vital part of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace, and as a full-fledged member of the transatlantic community," said Hadley. "The president appreciates Albania's partnership in the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is grateful for Albania's constructive support for the Kosovo process and the Ahtisaari plan, and for the positive role it plays in the region."
The president's last stop is Bulgaria, which is now part of NATO and the European Union. Hadley says it is one of the strongest U.S. allies in the region and the president will express his gratitude for Bulgaria's support in Iraq and Afghanistan.