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Bush Departs for Europe, G-8 Summit


President Bush is on his way to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, before they attend the G-8 Summit this weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia.

White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says the stop in northeast Germany will be an opportunity for Mr. Bush to build a personal rapport with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The chancellor is providing strong, principled leadership, and the president believes she is helping to strengthen a German-American alliance committed to making this world safer, more democratic, and more prosperous," said President Bush.

Mr. Bush will travel on to Russia, arriving Friday in St. Petersburg ahead of the leaders of Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. The early arrival is designed to provide time for one-on-one talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the G-8 Summit participants gather for a social dinner Saturday evening.

Critics of the Russian government have urged President Bush to boycott the summit to show his concern for recent setbacks to democracy. But the White House makes clear no thought was given to staying home.

Hadley told reporters the president believes the best approach is to meet with the Russian leader and raise concerns privately, but frankly.

"Russia is an important player in Europe. It is an important country in the world, and it is important that we engage on these issues in the way I described, cooperating in areas where we can and being clear where we disagree. And that is the kind of businesslike relationship you'd expect," said Stephen Hadley.

The Russian hosts have chosen three priority topics for the summit: energy security, fighting infectious disease, and education. But recent developments regarding Iran and North Korea's nuclear intentions are likely to play a key role in the discussions.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow says it is shaping up to be a very busy summit. He says it will also be an unusual G-8 because there are so many international trouble spots vying for attention.