By Bill Straub
Scripps Howard News Service
February 25, 2005
Although the president exchanged warm greetings with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a switch from the icy relations of the recent past, the Europeans continued to differ with Bush over key topics like Iraq and whether the 15-year-old arms embargo against China should be allowed to lapse. The United States wants it continued.
While almost all of Europe is an agreement with Washington over the desire to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the sides dickered over the best way to achieve that goal.
Bush eventually expressed limited support for an effort under way by France, Germany and Great Britain to offer Iran incentives to abandon its uranium-enrichment program. But he shied away from participating directly in any negotiations, saying that the best way to force Tehran's hand would come through U.N. sanctions.
Bush also sought to allay growing concerns that Iran is next on the U.S. hit list.
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," Bush said during a visit to European Union headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, before quickly adding, "And having said that, all options are on the table."
Despite the remaining differences the White House considered the trip a success, noting that the primary objective was to strengthen relations between the United States and what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once called "old Europe" _ traditional allies who felt alienated by what was perceived as Bush's unilateral foreign policy. That endeavor, officials agree, went well.
"We have agreed that we are not going to constantly emphasize where we're not agreeing, but we want to focus on where we do agree," Schroeder told reporters after his meeting with Bush on Tuesday.
Chirac, who had a private dinner with the president in Brussels Monday night, told reporters that "our relations are, indeed, excellent."
"Now, of course, that doesn't mean that because we share common values we don't _ we necessarily agree on everything all the time," Chirac said. "Of course, we can have our differences, our divergence of opinion. Recently, this was the case _ we didn't share the same view over Iraq. But this in no way affects or in no way undermines the bedrock of our relations, namely, our common values and our common vision."
Schroeder and Bush touched on another sensitive topic _ Washington's refusal to embrace the Kyoto accord on global warming. But rather than criticize Bush for failing to support the treaty, Schroeder expressed hope other avenues could be taken to address the problem.
"The Kyoto Protocol was not appreciated by everybody, and that is something that has continued to exist," Schroeder said. "But I would like to emphasize that, despite that, we would like to see practical cooperation with the reduction of problems in this area. And we think that there could be room for maneuver, particularly in the field of technology, where the United States of America and Germany both have tremendous know-how, and we would like to deepen cooperation in this field, irrespective of the question of whether Kyoto is the right tool to be going about things, or not."
While Bush's relations with Chirac and Schroeder appeared to be on the upswing, it was a different story with Russian President Vladimir Putin _ a man Bush has always gone to great pains to describe as a friend.
Bush and Putin met Thursday in Bratislava, Slovakia. The Bush-Putin sessions resulted in a historic agreement to work cooperatively to combat nuclear terrorism. The United States and Russia will work together to enhance emergency responses to incidents involving radioactive materials, and share "best practices" for the sake of improving security at nuclear facilities bilaterally and with other nations having advanced nuclear programs.
But a joint appearance at Bratislava Castle resulted in some tense moments when Bush acknowledged that "we had a discussion about some decisions he's made" that seemed to stand in the way of Russia's democratic movement.
"I think it's very important that all nations understand the great values inherent in democracy _ rule of law and protection of minorities, viable political debate," Bush said.
Putin, stone-faced as usual, responded by saying that "Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy." But he said: "I believe that a lot of people will agree with me, the implementation of the principles and norms of democracy should not be accompanied by the collapse of the state and the impoverishment of the people."
He added: "We believe, and I personally believe, that the implementation and the strengthening of democracy on the Russian soil should not jeopardize the concept of democracy. It should strengthen statehood and it should improve living standards for the people. It is in this direction that we're going to act."