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Bush Arrives in Slovenia

Aired June 16, 2001 - 06:26   ET


SHIHAB RATTANSI, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush has just arrived in Slovenia.

John King is actually in Slovenia at the welcoming ceremony, and joins us now with more.

John, what can you tell us?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Shihab, the U.S. President George W. Bush, as you mentioned, just touching down for this, his first meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Putin due here in Slovenia just a few minutes after the U.S. president.

Now, as important as this meeting is -- as important the issues the two leaders plan to discuss, we should point out at the outset they will be together for just two hours in the meetings themselves. So the White House saying it expects no major breakthroughs and, indeed, President Bush saying his No. 1 goal here today is just to get to know the Russian president, to "size him up," in the U.S. president's words. Mr. Bush saying he hopes, eventually, down the line, to be able to call Mr. Putin a friend.

Now, on the table for these discussions: the controversial U.S. missile defense plan. Russia has objected to that, and the United States trying to convince the Russians to set aside the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty. We're also told by U.S. officials that Mr. Bush will raise concerns about Russian sales of missile and other military technology to Iran.

And, of course, they will discuss a subject that the United States supports, and that Russia has voiced grave reservations about, plans for both the NATO military alliance and the European Union to expand in the years ahead to include more of the former Soviet Union client (ph) states.

Again, this is the first meeting between these two leaders. You See Air Force One taxiing there on the tarmac here in Ljubljana. The first meeting between the two leaders. U.S. official, obviously, say it's quite important. But, again, the discussions beginning between, at the leader-lever, and Mr. Bush saying yesterday in Poland that he did not expect any major breakthroughs -- Shihab.

RATTANSI: And, John, are these really going to be informal discussions in those two hours, or is it just going to be a carefully scripted exchange of their two positions, which everyone knows anyway?

KING: Well, you have a little bit of a mix. The two leaders will meet one-on-one with -- each will have a national security adviser present -- but they will spend about 30 minutes, essentially, talking one-on-one, with one adviser in the room. Then they will go into an expanded meeting, in which the foreign ministers and other officials will come in. And those discussions get more detailed. U.S. officials saying Mr. Bush looking forward to that first half hour, mainly as a chance to say hello to the Russian leader. They have spoken, and they have exchanged letters, but never have they met face-to-face.

And, of course, this is Mr. Bush's first trip as president to Europe. This is the fifth stop -- five countries. And he is being measured, not only by U.S. allies at the NATO meeting, at the European Union meeting, but now, of course, by the Russian president. So this, a bit of a debut, if you will. Mr. Bush, in his nearly five months in office has traveled to Mexico and to Canada, but this is his first transatlantic trip.

And his personal style, he said, is to get to know a leader, and then, once there's a personal rapport built up, then try to deal with the difficult issues. And certainly in the U.S.-Russia relationship right now, there is a long list of very difficult issues.

RATTANSI: You mentioned that this is the last stop on Mr. Bush's tour. I mean, has it been a success? In some ways, what he's done is just express his position on various issues that most of Europe don't agree with, said that he's going to listen to them. But it's been pretty clear that he, you know, he's pretty fixed on his agenda.

KING: Certainly, mixed results would be the best way to describe it at this point. Mr. Bush saying he came away from the NATO summit encouraged, because many allied leaders who, in the past, had voiced outright skepticism of the U.S. missile defense plan, saying they would give Mr. Bush a little bit more time and that they would try to keep an open mind about it.

Now, one of the reasons that allowed to happen, of course, is that there is no specific plan on the table right now. So Mr. Bush is not asking the NATO allies to say yes or no to any specific timetable, any specific technology, any specific budget or plan to deploy this program.

Right now, Mr. Bush just saying he wants to, over the next several years, develop this program. So the leaders, the other allies, don't feel pressed to say yes or no at this moment.

The most contentious issue on this tour, not missile defense, but global warming. The European Union issuing a very sharp statement condemning the U.S. position, which is opposition to the Kyoto treaty, that requires mandatory reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gasses. SO a bit of a fight there with key European allies, key trading partners of the United States at the EU.

And U.S. officials view those meetings, the NATO summit and the EU meetings, as most important in terms of the day-to-day activities of the United States, because of the trading relationships, because of the military alliance.

But certainly, in terms of international security issues, this meeting here today in Slovenia between President Bush and President Putin, quite critical.

Mr. Bush, in addition to tying to sell his missile defense plan, has talked about making sweeping reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, perhaps even unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He wants to discuss whether Russia will reduce as well. Remember, late in the Clinton administration, the Clinton administration was speaking to the Putin government about addition cuts. Those talks just never reached a point where there was a conclusion.

RATTANSI: You mentioned missile reductions. I believe the Russians have acted -- reacted quite favorably to the idea of missile reductions, though not necessarily on the unilateral framework, but a multilateral framework.

But does Mr. Bush come bearing other sweeteners to try and charm Russia into being a little more open to the Bush administration?

KING: There has been a debate in the United States government -- we see the door of Air Force One open there, and they're bringing up the steps -- there has been a debate about sweeteners -- the carrot- and-stick approach, if you will. On the one hand, we know Mr. Bush will raise concerns about a recent crackdown on press freedoms and steps the United States government views as antidemocratic, by the Putin government.

On the other hand, there has been talk that, if you can get a deal to amend or set aside the ABM Treaty -- and the big issue there is that the United States, in testing anti-missile technology, would violate the treaty if it goes much farther in its research.

The United States has talked of, perhaps, incentives in which, if there was a missile defense built for Europe, perhaps the Russians could be involved in that. Perhaps there could be purchases of Russian military technology which, of course, would help the Russian economy.

One issue, again, to come up here is a very different take between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration on the question of economic assistance to Russia. The Bush administration much more skeptical than the Clinton administration on the issue of World Bank and IMF loans. They say that they have not seen proof that the loans in the past have gone into marked economic reforms. They believe much of that money has been wasted on corruption; and they've promised a much tougher line when it comes to Russia, unless they see more evidence of economic reform.

RATTANSI: Mr. Putin, meanwhile, only a couple of days ago has been showing off his newfound closeness between China and Russia. Do you think the Bush administration is concerned about that? KING: Certainly, because the Bush administration is off to a very rocky start in its relations with China because of the EP-3 spy plane standoff, because of the spy tensions. So, certainly, the United States looking now -- and there's been a question about the new Bush team, as we see the president -- President Bush make his initial forays on the world stage, of course, we should remember there's a new secretary of state, a new defense secretary in the United States. They've now been in office almost five months, so they're not so new anymore.

But a very different approach by many of those gentlemen, the Cabinet heads in the U.S. government than the administration before them. Certainly, on the issue of China, Mr. Bush wants to have engagement on trade issues, but he's promised a tougher line on security issues when he made the public statement early on that he would defend Taiwan if necessary, that raised eyebrows around the world.

So when the United States government, at a time its relations with China are certainly at a low point, when it sees Mr. Putin in China, and China and Russia talking again, they view this as strategic decisions being made by each of these governments at an uncertain time, as all the governments around the world. And, of course, we focus on the important relationships, like Moscow-Washington, and Washington-Beijing. As all the governments assess Mr. Bush and his policies, a little bit of chess going on, perhaps the best way to describe it.

RATTANSI: Now, when you mention the new Bush team, I mean, has this been a pretty disastrous start? They seem not only to have alienated and confused their enemies, but their allies as well. Is this normal, or is this a particularly bad start?

KING: Well, the Clinton administration -- veterans of the Clinton administration, they laugh now because they're out of the government and it was eight years ago. They remember a few rocky starts as well, but there has been, universally, if not criticism, certainly confusion from both allies and countries that you might consider not allies, but who have relationships with the United States.

The Bush administration initially saying perhaps it would pull some troops out of Bosnia, the peacekeeping operation; now saying it will stay in that peacekeeping operation as long as NATO deems it necessary. The administration at first saying it would not continue negotiations with North Korea over its missile program, now, just in the past several days, saying it would, indeed, restart those negotiations. The South Korean president came to Washington and left very disappointed. He says he's now much more encourages.

The European allies have been upset over not being consulted on global warming. They say they're happy now to have a dialogue with Mr. Bush on the issue. They just simply don't like what the U.S. position is at the moment, and they see no evidence it will change,

So there are always bumpy times during a transition. This on, perhaps, a few more bumps than others; and especially on issues like global warming and on some of the security issues, like missile defense, there has been some pretty public criticism from many traditional U.S. allies.

RATTANSI: And during this European tour there does seem to be a real split, now. The Bush administration seems to regard foreign policy as a matter of threats to the United States, whereas Europe, certainly, this week has been suggesting that foreign policy is more about addressing global issues such as the environment, such as poverty and that sort of thing. I mean, are -- is there any room for closeness, given the kind of -- the seemingly divergent ways of looking at foreign policy?

KING: Well, that was a constant refrain of President Clinton in his final years in office, that because of the global economy, the very term "international security" had changed in its meaning and in its context. That economic matters, environmental policy were as much an issue in terms of international security as would be arms control and security alliances and military alliances.

Mr. Bush's team is a bit more compartmentalized, if you will, in its approach to government: the Defense Department dealing with defense issues, the State Department dealing with policy issues. There has been a bit of a tug of war between the Defense Department and the State Department over certain policy issues, and as a result there have been those mixed signals we were speaking about earlier.

But certainly Mr. Bush himself, and he viewed this as very important for him -- and we're beginning to see some of the senior staff come off Air Force One there -- Mr. Bush himself very much wanted to get out on this trip, we're told, meet the leaders face-to- face. He delivered a speech in Warsaw yesterday outlining his view of the future of U.S.-Europe relation and U.S.-Russia relations.

If you speak to him directly, he will say that over time he believes he will develop good relations with these leaders, that they will come to trust him.

We see the Secretary of State Colin Powell there now, coming off Air Force One. Mr Powell more and more taking the lead in this policy. There was a bit of a feeling-out period within the administration (AUDIO GAP) Defense Department hard-liners among those the first to say that there would not be those discussions with North Korea, that perhaps the troops would come out of the Balkans quicker than the Clinton administration had projected.

Mr. Powell, in recent days, ascendant, if you speak to senior U.S. officials, in getting his views accepted by the White House, that those talks with North Korea should go on, that MR. Bush, even if there is open disagreement, should try to have a dialogue with the European allies on the subject of global warming.

So it has been a bit of a rocky transition, and most presidents, when they are elected in the United States, tend to focus first on their domestic legislative agenda. And that was the case here. And here you see President George W. Bush and the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, stepping down the steps here of Air Force One. We hear the anthem's playing in the welcome ceremony.

RATTANSI: John, as we listen to the anthems and the welcoming ceremony, as you say, I mean, there hasn't been a lot of emphasis on the personal relationship Mr. Bush is trying to forge. But you've been covering politics for years, is this really how American geopolitics works, and especially America's relationship with the rest of the world -- it's all about the president having a nice, close relationship with various world leaders?

KING: Well, certainly there are historical relations that pass from administration to administration. Much talk, always, in the United States and Britain of the special relationship between Washington and London.

But often, especially in times of crisis, relationships do become personified. Ronald Reagan was very close to Margaret Thatcher. This president's father, George Bush, was very close to John Major. It was this president's father who, of course, led the United States coalition that led the Persian Gulf War.

This president, like many U.S. presidents, very little international policy experience when he takes office. Oftentimes U.S. presidents come from being governors of states. Mr. Bush was the governor of Texas, Mr. Reagan was the governor of California, Mr. Clinton the governor of Arkansas.

So often there are bumpy periods in the beginning when they take office. And Mr. Bush, for example, invited Tony Blair out to Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat. Mr. Blair was very close to Mr. Clinton, both personally and politically. Mr. Bush acknowledges to aides those two leaders unlikely to strike as close a personal relationship as Mr. Blair had with Mr. Clinton; but, by all accounts, that relationship off to a very good start. A decent relationship at the personal level and, as we have seen in policy both in the military strikes against Iraq and in the United Nations debate about the sanctions regime against Iraq, the U.S. and Britain continue to work very closely.

RATTANSI: But do you think, for all this talk of personal relationships, during this week, stops throughout Europe, it's become pretty clear, though, that although Mr. Bush is trying to suggest that he's open to dialogue, the fact is, though, that if Europe doesn't agree with him, if Russia doesn't agree with him, there's not much they can do about whatever Mr. Bush wants to do. They don't really have any leverage over him.

KING: That is true on many issues. Certainly on the issue of global warming -- the United States is the world's largest economy. If he will not sign on to the Kyoto treaty, and it is clear now that he will not, the European allies may be angry, but the leaders acknowledging that they will have to have a discussion about an alternative.

Here you have Mr. Bush while the U.S. National Anthem is played.

RATTANSI: That was the Slovenian National Anthem, and before that, of course, the U.S. National Anthem.

And, John, as President Bush there continues his inspection of the ranks out there to welcome him, what's on the agenda next?

KING: Well, he will come, now, to the hotel, the resort hotel, where he will have his meeting with Mr. Putin. Mr. Bush meeting first with Slovenian officials -- the president and the prime minister. Mr. Putin due to arrive shortly, and then the two leaders will meet, as we discussed, 30 minutes in a small meeting and then in a larger meeting for another 90 minutes or so.

Now, the interesting thing to watch later in the day will be the news conference both men will hold. Again, the White House not expecting any breakthroughs on the big issues: missile proliferation, the national missile defense plan being pushed by the United States. No breakthroughs expected, but certainly when we get a chance to question the leaders later today, we will get a sense of whether Mr. Putin is open to amending or scrapping the ABM Treaty, whether he's open to negotiating what Mr. Bush calls a new security framework for the 21st century.

And, certainly, Mr. Putin a very different figure than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. But often from the body language, when you have leaders in such a setting, you can at least see a little bit about whether they are beginning to develop a political relationship and a personal relationship, or whether things are a little cool.

RATTANSI: John King in the Slovenian capital, thanks very much for your commentary. And, of course, CNN will keep you updated and informed about President Bush's visit to Slovenia, and this all- important set of talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

I'm Shihab Rattansi at the CNN center. Stay with CNN.



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