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Europe notebook

In Europe, Bush encounters more disregard than disdain

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Geraldine Baum
Los Angeles Times / June 15, 2008

In his sweep across Europe last week, President Bush found a continent that has largely moved beyond him.

The American president who enraged and infuriated Europeans over everything from military intervention in Iraq to climate change and once provoked massive street protests was greeted this time like a former boyfriend who is no longer even worth fighting with.

The Olympic flame's passage through the streets of Europe brought out more protesters than Bush did - by a lot.

"This is an American president at the end of his mandate who awakens more indifference than passion," the right-leaning French newspaper Le Figaro announced before Bush's arrival in Paris.

Bush himself caught the spirit at the start of his tour in Slovenia when he said, "Lots of people like America. It's possible that they don't necessarily like its president." The French left-leaning Liberation newspaper congratulated Bush for his lucidity.

Friends in high places
Some European leaders are not unfriendly to Bush.

In his speech last week in Paris, Bush mentioned by name Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Gordon Brown of Britain, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, and thanked them for supporting the US campaign in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy ran for president a year ago as pro-American in contrast with his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who vehemently condemned America's march to war in Iraq. On this presidential visit, the rift with France officially was deemed a piece of history.

"Recent history has made clear that no disagreement can diminish the deep ties between our nations," Bush said. Sarkozy expressed the "deep gratitude of the French people and our friendship."

Sarkozy visited the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, last August and was served hamburgers and hot dogs. He got a warm welcome on his first official visit to Washington in November.

Sarkozy greeted Bush on the steps of the Élysée Palace with a smile and a handshake when he arrived for a private dinner Friday night. In a separate hall of the palace, Sarkozy's new wife, the singer and former fashion model Carla Bruni, had a tête-à-tête with Laura Bush before the dinner.

Cultivating experience
At the Vatican, some cardinals objected when Pope Benedict XVI gave Bush a rare welcome, taking him on a friendly stroll through the Vatican gardens and stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.

"Your Eminence, you're looking good," Bush told the pope. Later, as Benedict pointed out the view from a balcony in St. John's Tower in the gardens, Bush exclaimed: "This is fantastic up here."

A number of Vatican prelates were uncomfortable with the "warmth" of the pope's reception for Bush, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Bush was the first head of state to be received in the gardens rather than in the pope's library in the Apostolic Palace.

"So much attention to a president who did not take any account of the appeal which the Holy Father launched to avoid a second war with Iraq," lamented one cardinal, according to the newspaper.

Benedict presented Bush, who leaves office in January, with a four-volume work about St. Peter's Basilica. "Perhaps you'll have some time to read it," the pope said.

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