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Inside Politics

Ties vital, Bush to tell Europe

President to meet with top leaders on 5-day trip


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush says he plans to use his upcoming trip to Europe to tell people on both sides of the divide that shared interests are stronger than past differences.

Bush has conceded that friction over the Iraq war caused some in Europe and the United States to "talk past each other."

"My first goal is to remind both Americans and Europeans that the trans-Atlantic relationship is very important for our mutual security and for peace," the president said at a news conference Thursday.

"We have differences sometimes, but we don't differ on values."

Pointing to the recent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush also said that "part of the reason I'm going to Europe is to share my sense of optimism and enthusiasm about what's taking place, and remind people that those values of human rights, human dignity and freedom are at the core of our very being as nations."

The president and first lady Laura Bush are scheduled to leave for Europe on Sunday.

The itinerary for the five-day tour includes just three countries: Belgium, Germany and the Slovak Republic.

But Bush will be meeting with virtually every major political player on the continent, including French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the new president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko.

In Brussels, Bush will also meet with NATO heads of state and members of the European Council, in addition to having one-on-one meetings with two European leaders who supported his Iraq policy -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Bush will also give a major speech that "will focus on his vision of a united trans-Atlantic community, working together to promote freedom and democracy, particularly in the broader Middle East."

Hadley briefed reporters on the president's trip Thursday.

While in Germany, Bush will meet with U.S. soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will participate in a roundtable discussion with German citizens.

Bush's visit to the Slovak Republic -- which before the fall of communism in the late 1980s was part of Czechoslovakia -- will be the first by a U.S. president. He is slated to give a public speech in the central square of the capital, Bratislava.

"The stop in the Slovak Republic is a nice opportunity for the president to remind Europe and the rest of the world of the progress we've made together in that part of the world," Hadley said.

"It's also an opportunity to pay tribute to the people of the Slovak Republic, and also other countries in the region, for the right choices they made in pursuing democracy and freedom."

Hadley said topics likely to be addressed in Bush's discussions with European leaders include "finding new ways to support the new governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, advancing an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and spreading freedom and democracy to parts of the world that have known too little of both."

start quoteWe have differences sometimes, but we don't differ on values.end quote
-- President Bush

He also indicated that it is likely that the United States will secure specific commitments from NATO members on providing assistance to the new Iraqi government.

What to do about Iran's fledgling nuclear program, and how to approach Syria's continued military presence in Lebanon, are also likely to be on the agenda, Hadley said.

Germany, Britain and France have been negotiating with the Iranians to broker a deal to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

France, as the former colonial power in Syria and Lebanon, worked with the United States on a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Hadley also said U.S. officials have raised objections with Russia over its proposed sale of surface-to-air missiles to Syria.

Bush's meeting with Putin will take place in the Slovak Republic, on the last day of the trip.

Hadley said he was "confident" that the president would raise with Putin his concerns about what U.S. officials see as an erosion of democracy in Russia.

"The president, in prior conversations, has emphasized to President Putin the importance of the principles of freedom and democracy and his view that the United States wants to broaden and deepen its relationship with Russia," he said.

"To have that relationship reach its full maturity, Russia needs to progress along the course of democracy and freedom."


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