San Diego Union-Tribune

June 9, 2001

Bush faces test of diplomacy in first Europe trip


WASHINGTON -- Amid growing criticism in Europe, President Bush leaves Monday for his first overseas trip, a five-nation, five-day, get-to-know-you swing across the continent that is seen as crucial for U.S.-Russia relations and for White House hopes to rally allies behind missile defense.

The trip will take the president to Spain, NATO headquarters in Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia. It will feature a summit with European Union leaders miffed at U.S. positions on global warming and missile defense and include his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The president will be leaving on the same day as the first federal execution since 1963. This has the White House braced for public demonstrations against the death penalty, which many Europeans closely associate with the former Texas governor now in the Oval Office.

If public protests occur, they will be only the most visible display of discontent in the early months of a U.S. administration that is at odds with most of the allies both on the substance of several issues and on a style that they view as short on consultation and long on unilateral actions.

"It's a little surprising that so early in his presidency he has to go and repair relations. But that is what this trip is about," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The biggest strain on the relationship came from cross-Atlantic differences on global warming and widespread skepticism about missile defense. But there are also trade frictions, differences about the speed of NATO expansion, military spending, the Balkans, and, more generally, what Europeans see as a White House tendency to act on its own.

Lael Brainard, who served as President Clinton's personal representative to the annual allied economic summits, said Bush's trip "might actually have a little edge to it" because of European unease.

But she said its primary purpose will be to introduce the new president to leaders and a continent he does not know as well as have his predecessors.

"If you look at all these meetings collectively," said Kim Holmes, vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, "they sort of amount
to Bush's coming-out party to the international community."

Because he has never met Putin or most of the leaders who will be at the U.S.-European Union meeting in Sweden, the president has undertaken "a tremendous amount of preparation" for the trip, according to Beth Jones, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.

He's done "a tremendous amount of reading. He's talked with a tremendous number of people. And he is preparing himself to listen also quite a bit to his European colleagues to understand better the sources of their concerns," Jones said yesterday.

She added that Bush hopes to "try to better explain more clearly the positions, the policies that he is pursuing."

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice acknowledged that the White House was less than sure-footed in the way it antagonized European leaders by unilaterally killing the Kyoto protocols on global warming. But she disputed talk of a trans-Atlantic rift because of the president's policies.

"The notion somehow that we have tremendous tensions with our European allies I think is, frankly, just not right," Rice told reporters.

But, she added, "We have policy differences on a number of issues. And so we have a lot of work to do with our allies."

In Sweden, those issues will include trade disputes and grumbling that the new American administration wants to cut the number of U.S.-European Union meetings each year. But most attention will be paid to the continental unhappiness with the way Bush pulled out of the Kyoto protocols without real consultations with the allies.

The White House is scrambling to piece together a new proposal to combat global warming before Bush leaves Monday night. Rice, speaking of the way the Kyoto issue was handled, said last week, "It might have been better to let people know, including our allies, that we were not going to support the protocol."

Rice insists there was no such clumsiness on the administration's position on missile defense.

"I would not characterize it as a disagreement," she said, even though all of the major allies, other than Italy, are less than enthusiastic about Bush's desire to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to develop a missile defense system.

"I would say that we're in the midst of ongoing consultations with our allies about how to best move forward to address the common threats of today's security environment," she said.

To the bemusement of some Western embassy officials, the president gave the allies advice in American football terms when he greeted the Super Bowl champions Thursday.

"Our allies need to look at the Baltimore Ravens," Bush said to laughter. "They'll realize a good defense wins. A good defense is one which adjusts to the times. A good defense is modern. A good defense is clear."

Bush will likely have to find a more persuasive way of making his case during his first summit with Putin, the Kremlin leader opposed to ripping up the ABM treaty.

That meeting, planned to last only two hours, may be the most important session of the trip, bringing together the leaders with the world's two
largest nuclear arsenals at a time of uncertainty in relations.

"The Russians are miffed," Cirincione said. "There were high hopes among officials and among the public. They were enthusiastic about the Bush election. They were tired of the Clinton people and they felt they could do business with the Bush people. So they were stunned at the cold shoulder they got."