Europeans focus on politics after Bush

New deals are not expected during his farewell trip

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Deb Riechmann
Associated Press / June 8, 2008

WASHINGTON - President Bush's motorcade will speed through European capitals this week, but for many Europeans, the Bush presidency already is in their rearview mirrors.

Trans-Atlantic relations are on the upswing as European leaders have moved beyond their anger over the US-led invasion of Iraq. Still, anti-Bush sentiment runs high on the streets, though that is being mollified by Europeans' excitement about the race for Bush's successor.

Like many Americans, Europeans have Bush fatigue. Many believe Barack Obama and John McCain will have different positions, perhaps more favorable, than Bush on issues important to Europe.

The president continues to promote his agenda on climate change, Mideast peace, and world trade issues, but his influence has ebbed.

"I'm sure there will be some protests, but I think people are just looking past this guy at this point and they're interested in what comes next," said James M. Goldgeier, a Europe analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"There's no reason for any leader to give him anything because he's on the way out. You have a presidency that's losing energy, is consumed by Iraq and a president who is unpopular, in general, in Europe, and people are looking beyond him," Goldgeier said.

Bush will begin the trip tomorrow at a US-European Union summit in Slovenia. The president then travels to Germany, Italy, France, and Britain. He also will visit Northern Ireland and meet Pope Benedict at the Vatican before returning next June 16.

The weeklong farewell trip is not Bush's final goodbye to his European counterparts. He will see them again at a summit next month in Japan.

Yet as he completes the final leg of his presidency, the trip to Central and Western Europe is one of Bush's last chances to lay the groundwork for US-European relations for his successor.

The trip is not expected to yield any new deals.

Bush will ask for Europe's help in Afghanistan and push for stronger penalties against Iran to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Europe will nudge Bush forward on a blueprint for global warming.

Talks also will touch on humanitarian aid, the food crisis, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and economic integration of both sides of the Atlantic.

Europeans know more about McCain, a longtime senator who frequently has traveled abroad, than they do about Obama, a newcomer to the world stage.

Obama has stirred curiosity. After he clinched enough delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination, The Times of London said in an editorial that his campaign "has rekindled America's faith in its prodigious powers of reinvention - and the world's admiration for America."

America's image around the world has taken a bruising under Bush's watch. But while there will be a new president in January, some of the country's chief concerns probably continue along.

"Once President Bush is out of the White House, there will be huge expectations in Europe that a new rosy dawn of peace and love is appearing over the Atlantic and they're liable to be somewhat disappointed because America is still going to look after its own interests and the fundamental interests may not have changed that much," said Reginald Dale, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

On Iran, for instance, Europeans may not be that comfortable with the candidates' stances.

McCain favors tougher penalties against Iran and opposes direct high-level talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama initially said he would meet Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Now, he says he is not sure that Ahmadinejad is the "right person to meet with right now."

Obama said he thinks direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders, if that approach is in the national security interests of the United States and its allies, would give Washington more credibility to press for more international penalties.

But he also told a pro-Israel lobby group recently: "I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally, Israel."

Aid for Afghanistan will remain a key issue in the post-Bush era. Obama and McCain have said they want Europe to send more troops there and have hinted they want to see Europe spend a larger share of its money on defense.

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