Bush trip welcomed, protested

President to discuss international peace plans during London visit

November 19, 2003|By Bob Kemper | Bob Kemper,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LONDON - President Bush arrived here last night to begin a four-day state visit during which he planned to call on Britain and Europe to follow the United States' lead in actively reshaping the world by spreading and nurturing democracy around the globe, particularly in the Middle East.

In a speech today at Whitehall Palace to an audience of foreign affairs specialists and local dignitaries, Bush will detail three pillars for international peace and security, said a senior administration official aboard Air Force One during the flight from Washington. Bush planned to call for strong support for existing international organizations, although he personally questioned the relevance of the United Nations in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The president will defend the use of military force to achieve security, though he will portray it "as a tool that one uses lightly," the official said.

The final pillar in Bush's strategy is the "spread of democratic values" to authoritarian nations, although he will concede that for democracy to succeed "it has to have partners inside" the targeted country, the official said.

"It can't be done simply out of imposition from the outside or out of the barrel of a gun," the official said. "Everybody understands that."

The strategy Bush will present closely parallels the steps the United States took in invading Iraq. Just over a year ago, Bush sought U.N. approval for action against Saddam Hussein and when the U.N. balked, he acted militarily with Britain, a nation deeply divided over its role in confronting Iraq. Bush has widened the U.S. mission in Iraq from disarming a dictator to establishing a toehold for democracy in the autocratic Middle East.

"There is an important role for speeches like this," the official said. "The role of the president is to speak clearly to these values. Why did Ronald Reagan go [to London] to make a case that communism was going to end up on the ash heap of history? It was to call everybody to their better beings, to their higher angels."

Bush and first lady Laura Bush were greeted at Heathrow Airport by Prince Charles, then flew by helicopter to Buckingham Palace to be guests of Queen Elizabeth II.

But the reception Bush's foreign policy address is likely to receive outside the palace's Banqueting House is unclear. Even as the president was preparing to deliver the speech, protesters opposed to the Iraq war and other Bush policies were mobilizing around the city.

Concerned that al-Qaida might try to infiltrate the protests or that anarchist groups would aim to drive the demonstrations to violence, U.S. and British security officials have virtually sealed off parts of the city, making Bush one of the most heavily guarded dignitaries ever to visit.

About 5,000 local police will patrol the city. The Mall - the traditional parade route to the palace - was decked out in American flags and Union Jacks on the eve of the event, but the U.S. Embassy was encircled by three rings of concrete barriers and guarded by police openly displaying automatic weapons.

"Overkill?" asked yesterday morning's Daily Mail, noting that half of London's police force will be guarding Bush, "raising fears that criminals will target other parts of the city."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone typified the animosity that Bush seems to bring out in some Europeans when he characterized the president as "the greatest threat to life on this planet."

While Bush is scheduled to attend a number of state functions during his official state visit, he will spend a great deal of his time in conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush is expected to tell Blair that he has not decided whether to lift the tariffs he imposed on steel imported to the United States, even though the World Trade Organization ruled that the tariffs violate international trade rules and the European Union is threatening to retaliate against the tariffs by imposing its own tariffs on U.S. products, administration officials said.

Bush also is expected to discuss with Blair concerns in Britain about the fate of British citizens being held prisoner by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. insists that the men are justly held and are being treated fairly.

The two leaders are expected to spend much of their time discussing the transition of power in Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

"We can't continue with the status quo in the Middle East," the official on Air Force One said.

Bush's aides took delight in a poll published yesterday by The Guardian newspaper. The poll showed that 43 percent of the British public welcomed Bush, while 36 percent thought he should have remained home.

The figures flew in the face of conventional wisdom - and previous polling data - that suggested most Britons were rabidly anti-Bush, and that Blair had nothing to gain by highlighting his close association with the American president.

The Guardian poll also registered a significant drop in opposition to the war during the past six weeks, with the number of those opposed to it dropping from 53 percent in September to 41 percent. Two-thirds of those questioned said they believe it would be a mistake for the United States and Britain to pull out of Iraq early.

The poll also found that 62 percent of respondents believed that the United States "generally speaking was a force for good, not evil, in the world."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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