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Bush looking to reconcile with 'old Europe'

President wants consensus on peace, security and democratization

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(CNN) -- President Bush left for Europe on Sunday with an ambitious agenda for patching relations with "old Europe," bolstering support from the eastern European nations newly emerged from the end of the Cold War, and spreading democracy throughout the world.

The three-nation trip is the president's first European visit since his November re-election.

Administration officials said this week that Bush hopes to reach some consensus with traditional U.S. allies on a variety of peace and security issues, from post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

"America and Europe are the pillars of the free world," Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

"Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand that the hopes for peace in the world depend on the continued unity of free nations. We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe."

Bush's five-day visit to Europe includes stops in Belgium, Germany and Slovakia for meetings with leaders of those countries and the heads of France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Ukraine.

His goal is setting a new tone for his second-term, a challenge rooted as much in personality clashes as in policy differences. Traditional U.S. allies were angered in 2003 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's reference to them as "old Europe," in contrast to the post-Cold War nations of eastern Europe.

Speaking on the eve of his departure of his Iraq-strained relations with French President Jacques Chirac, Bush said "now is the time for us to set aside that difference and to move forward in areas where we can work together."

"We have a tendency in Europe and in America to talk past each other," Bush said, adding that he wants to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic alliance, "a vital relationship for our own [U.S.] security."

And, indeed, French and German authorities, who were openly hoping Bush would not be re-elected last November, have recently indicated a willingness to work with the U.S. president during his second term.

"The Europeans don't like the president's style," said Richard Perle, a conservative with close ties to the Bush White House. "But they have carried this disapproval of the president's style to an extreme."

It's uncertain what kind of reception he will receive from German and French leaders, whose objections to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq he dismissed.

In laying out Bush's agenda for the visit, his new national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Iraq will be a top item during the president's talks with European leaders, NATO, the European Union and the European Commission.

He said the United States would like to see Europe and NATO play a larger role in training Iraqi military and police, and helping protect U.N. operations in Iraq -- an idea that Germany, for one, has expressly rejected.

Hadley said Syria will be another important topic of discussion for Bush and his European counterparts. "[They] need to send a clear signal to Syria that the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East," and that it's time for Damascus to get on board with that trend.

Speaking of U.S.-Russian relations, Hadley said he expects Bush to address recent concerns about the depth of Moscow's commitment to democratization in light of recent developments there.

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