Bush, mending fences, to back `united Europe'

President to embrace nations as U.S. partners in world peace, prosperity

February 21, 2005|By Edwin Chen | Edwin Chen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BRUSSELS, Belgium - In a new drive to heal America's rift with France and Germany over Iraq, President Bush will endorse today the concept of a united Europe and declare that a rejuvenated trans-Atlantic alliance is "essential to peace and prosperity" around the world, the White House said yesterday.

Bush's strongest support to date for the 25-member European Union - a growing political and economic powerhouse - seems designed in part to quash suspicions in some European quarters that Washington would gladly countenance a divided Europe in order to perpetuate U.S. dominance in global affairs.

But in coming down unstintingly in favor of "Europe's democratic unity," the president also appears to be rejecting the view among some conservatives in the United States that a united Europe would loom as a challenger to U.S. interests.

Instead, Bush's speech appears to signal Washington's openness to a strong and growing European Union as an equal partner - and of the belief that the United States does not want to go it alone.

As Bush arrived in Belgium last night to begin four days of fence-mending visits with European leaders, the White House released excerpts of today's speech, which is intended to set a conciliatory tone for the president's first foreign trip of his second term.

"America supports Europe's democratic unity for the same reason we support the spread of democracy in the Middle East - because freedom leads to peace," Bush will say in the speech. "And America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world."

In calling for a strengthened trans-Atlantic partnership, the president will say that the United States and Europe face "a moment of consequence and opportunity," and describe the alliance as "the main pillar of our security in a new century."

"Our robust trade is one of the engines of the world economy. Our example of economic and political freedom gives hope to millions who are weary of poverty and oppression," Bush will say. "In all these ways, our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe - and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on Earth will ever divide us."

The speech, to a gathering of European business and political leaders, is scheduled for this afternoon. Bush also will meet today and tomorrow with leaders of several countries - including Belgium, Britain, Italy and Ukraine - as well as of the European Union and NATO. He is scheduled to dine tonight with French President Jacques Chirac, a vocal critic of the Iraq war.

On Wednesday, Bush will go to Mainz, Germany, to confer with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, another opponent of the Iraq war. On Thursday, Bush will go to Bratislava, Slovakia, to meet with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who also opposed the war.

European opposition to the war strained relations with Washington, but now that Saddam Hussein has been ousted and voters in Iraq have cast ballots for a transitional National Assembly, all the leaders, including Bush, have said that they would like to move on and emphasize common ground.

Despite his hopes of repairing the North Atlantic alliance and enlisting Europe to transform the Middle East, Bush faces daunting challenges, with an array of strategic issues unresolved. Chief among them is how to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions. The United States also opposes a plan by the Europeans to end an arms embargo against China.

"You can expect the president will call for common action to address our common challenges," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The sentiments in Bush's speech are unlikely to surprise leaders in Europe. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telegraphed the themes as she traveled across the continent this month, and the president laid the groundwork Friday when he met with European reporters at the White House. "Look, we want the EU to be successful," he told them.

During that meeting, Bush tacitly accepted partial blame for the falling-out between the United States and France, Germany and Russia over the invasion of Iraq, saying his "intense focus" on the war led to misunderstandings.

Now is the time, he added, "to seize the moment and invigorate a relationship that is a vital relationship for our own security as well as a vital relationship for long-term peace in the world."

Bush said he would emphasize shared values and goals, such as combating disease and famine.

"We compete at times - but we don't compete when it comes to values, and that's a very important part of my message," Bush said. "We share a belief in human rights and human dignity and rule of law and transparency of government and democracy and freedom."

Bush said he intended to bring up the Kyoto Treaty, a global pact to curb the emission of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. The United States - the largest producer of such gases - has rejected the treaty, much to Europe's dismay. Bush said he would remind critics that the United States is spending "billions on clean coal technology."

The White House in October began "thinking about" having Bush travel to Europe shortly after the election, an administration official said.

"This is not a case of the United States simply talking about our agenda," the official said. "It's a case of our talking about a common agenda."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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