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Bush Begins Trip to Europe, Middle East - 2003-05-30

President Bush has left Washington on a week-long journey to Europe and the Middle East, where he hopes to push the peace process forward. It may well be the most ambitious trip of his presidency.

Mr. Bush begins his journey in Poland, a key ally in the war in Iraq.

He is coming to Krakow, Poland's third largest city, for a brief visit that will be long on symbolism.

He will visit the sites of two Nazi death camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, where more than 1.5 million people were killed during World War II.

It will be a silent tribute to the victims of tyranny, followed by a speech at an ancient castle. In his remarks, Mr. Bush is likely to talk about the need to confront what he has called "forces of evil." He is also expected to speak in general about trans-Atlantic ties, focusing on the common values that bind the United States and Europe.

From Poland, the president will travel on to two countries that opposed military action in Iraq: Russia and France. In Saint Petersburg, Mr. Bush will take part in festivities marking the city's 300th birthday, and hold brief talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the French resort town of Evian, he will attend the annual G-8 economic summit, and meet on the sidelines with President Jacques Chirac.

President Bush says he does not expect any confrontation in Evian. In an interview with a small group of reporters before he left Washington, he said he is not mad at the French, but he is disappointed. The president said his aim now is to focus on the future, and on areas of cooperation. He made specific mention of combating AIDS in Africa, boosting trade and action to cut off the flow of money to terrorist groups.

His stay at the site of the G-8 meeting will be brief. Mr. Bush will depart roughly midway through the summit for the Middle East and what could be a crucial round of diplomacy.

It will be his first visit to the region as president, and some say it will mark a turning point in his involvement in the peace process. Mr. Bush, who has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, now says he sees an opportunity for progress that must be seized. In essence, he says, the timing is right.

He will begin with talks in Egypt with Arab leaders, urging them to play their part in promoting peace, and warning that the United States cannot do the job alone. In Jordan, plans are being made for an historic three-way summit involving Mr. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

It will be President Bush's first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Abbas. During his round-table discussion with journalists, the president said he trusts the Palestinian prime minister when he condemns terror. He also had some tough talk for Yasser Arafat, calling him "the old leader" of the Palestinian Authority who wasted a chance to lead.