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Bush Aims to Strengthen Relations on European Trip


Less than one month after his return from the Middle East, U.S. President George Bush is heading abroad again, this time to Europe. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports, he will hold talks with European Union leaders and visit the capitals of key allies: Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain.

You might call this George W. Bush's farewell tour. As his presidency draws to a close, he is making the rounds of European capitals - stressing the importance of trans-Atlantic relations.

Those ties have been strained throughout much of his presidency, in large part due to the war in Iraq.

Tensions rose during the run up to the war, and have only begun to ease a bit in the last few years. The White House has made a concerted effort to reach out to Europeans.

The president's message: there is more that unites us than divides us.

"The alliance of Europe and North America is the main pillar of our security," he said. "Our robust trade is one of the engines of the world economy. Our example of economic and political freedom gives hope to millions, who are weary of poverty and oppression."

Mr. Bush visited Europe three times in the 12 months following his second inauguration. And, in February 2005, he became the first U.S. president to set foot in the Brussels headquarters of the European Union.

"Our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us," the president said.

The goal was to change the tone, to ease the bitterness of the war, according to John K. Glenn, who heads the foreign policy program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"What we have seen over the past couple years is, you might think of it as a kind of a gentleman's agreement not to discuss Iraq," he said. "And, instead, trans-Atlantic relations have been fairly bolstered by a vision of a kind of global agenda - what are the challenges that face us all? And that list is fairly formidable."

The list includes Iran, the rise of China and Russia, and economics - especially trade.

On Iran in particular, President Bush embraced the European diplomatic initiative led by Germany, France and Britain.

"The U.S. and Europe rarely have the kind of big, deep disagreements that they used to have over Iraq," said Glenn. "There certainly is [was] the complaint about a lack of consultation and coordination that we used to hear, in particular, over the issues of the Middle East. Instead, U.S.-European relations seem to be on a fairly functional, fairly working level and to be reasonably successful."

In the final years of his term, President Bush has seen a new group of European leaders come to the fore who have signaled more of a willingness to work with the United States. Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicholas Sarkozy of France have brought about great change according to veteran journalist Reginald Dale, who is now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Sarkozy even ran for office with the nickname of 'the American,' and made no secret of the fact that he wanted to patch up relations - not only patch up relations with the United States, but that he admired the United States," he said.

Dale says that fondness for the U.S. may be bearing fruit.

"The whole climate in Europe has actually moved more favorably from President Bush's point of view," he said. "And even - we are beginning to see slightly less anti-Americanism in Europe at the popular level."

The improvement in the image of the United States, according to European public opinion surveys, is slight but real. In part, experts say, it may be because of the prospect of change in the White House as Americans prepare to elect a new president.

But Dale says it may also be a function of a growing realization that the two sides need each other.

"The relationship between Europe and the United States will be absolutely key to solving the problems of the 21st century," he said. "Where else can the United States ultimately look for allies but Europe? It has to be Europe."

Dale says, despite their fundamental problems, the Americans and the Europeans share basic values of the rule of law, democracy and freedom. He says their bond is unique, and unlike any other in the world.

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