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Bush Heading to Europe for NATO Summit


President Bush is heading to Europe Monday for visits to Ukraine, Croatia, Russia and the NATO summit in Romania. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports it will be a return trip to Bucharest for Mr. Bush.

"I am proud to be in this square and bring the good wishes of the American people," Mr. Bush said on that trip, which was one of the high points of his presidency.

On a gray November day in 2002, tens of thousands of people jammed Revolution Square in Bucharest. On the very spot where mobs once forced the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, to take flight, they celebrated a formal invitation from the members of NATO.

"I'm honored to carry a message to the people of Romania: We proudly invite you to join NATO, the great alliance of freedom!," Mr. Bush told the crowd.

The rain-soaked crowds cheered the news, swaying under umbrellas and looking up as a rainbow tried to pierce the blackened sky.

The president, fresh from a NATO summit in Prague, the Czech capital, spoke of Romania's transformation.

"Your country brings moral clarity to our NATO alliance," he said. "You value freedom because you have lived without it. You know the difference between good and evil, because you have seen evil's face."

Those days of celebration echo as Romania prepares to host a NATO summit of its own. White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the site is only fitting.

"The holding of the NATO summit in Bucharest is testimony to how the process of NATO enlargement has contributed to the successful transformation of Romania and other new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe," he explained.

In Romania, NATO will vote on whether to admit three more members: Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. And the alliance will take up a sensitive request to put two former Soviet Republics - Ukraine and Georgia - on the path to membership, by offering them a set of guideposts they must meet.

"And certainly the President is strongly inclined to want to help countries, aspiring democratic countries, on the road to greater democracy, to use all the instruments we can to help encourage that activity," he added.

The other sensitive issue topping the summit agenda is Afghanistan. President Bush will call on NATO countries to step up their commitment.

"I'm going to thank our allies for standing with the people, the brave people of this young democracy," he added. "I will remind them that we're not only in a mission to protect our own security; we're on a humanitarian mission that will free young girls to be able to realize their dreams."

Convincing others to up their deployments may well be the biggest challenge facing the president at the summit as many NATO members are reluctant to commit more forces to areas where heavy combat is likely.

"Now is the time for nations to make the hard decisions necessary so our children can grow up in a more peaceful world," he said. "I will call upon more international assistance to help Afghanistan on the road to freedom. We know what is at stake, and we know what we have to do. And so we're going to help the people of Afghanistan realize the blessings of liberty."

President Bush will stop in Ukraine before the NATO summit, and he will visit Croatia after the meeting to welcome the new members of the alliance. He will then head to Russia for what is expected to be his last meeting with President Vladimir Putin as heads of state.