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Bush Begins Trip to Europe, Middle East


U.S. President George Bush has arrived in Estonia, the start of a trip to Europe and the Middle East that will focus on conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story from the Estonian capital Tallinn.

This is the first visit to Estonia by a U.S. president, and White House officials say it will focus largely on common economic and security issues.

America is Estonia's eleventh largest trading partner and second only to Russia among nations outside the European Union. Estonia has backed U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq by contributing troops to both conflicts. Its troops also serve in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Mr. Bush begins his visit here Tuesday in talks with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The two men will take questions from reporters before having lunch at the Estonian National Opera House.

President Bush then flies to neighboring Latvia for a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Mr. Bush will speak at an international conference at the University of Latvia on the future of the NATO alliance before a working dinner with NATO leaders.

The NATO summit is expected to be dominated by Afghanistan, where the alliance has taken charge of the international force backing the government of Hamid Karzai.

With 11 countries outside the NATO alliance participating in the Afghan mission, President Bush wants a longer-term commitment from alliance members to better integrate some non-NATO members into alliance planning.

At the Latvian summit, NATO leaders are expected to invite Japan, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, and Finland to cooperate more closely on training, including special operations forces.

Bush Administration officials say the president will also urge some member states to increase their defense spending and loosen restrictions on where their troops serve in Afghanistan and what functions they perform.

Following Latvia, President Bush flies to Jordan for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the Bush Administration is not looking for what he calls a "big, bold announcement" from those talks.

Instead, the two men will discuss a joint commission established to speed the transfer of more responsibility to the Iraqi government and how regional states can better support it.

Jordanian King Abdullah says strong action is needed to prevent a further deterioration of security in the Middle East. In an American television interview Sunday, he warned of three potential civil wars in the Middle East - Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.