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Bush Tailors Trips to Prospective Pals

Europe: President meets royals, religious figures and more conservative leaders, shying from contentious politicians.

July 24, 2001|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ROME — Like a new arrival in the neighborhood, President Bush is searching the global community for likely friends.

He has tailored his itineraries in Europe, as much as possible, to ready allies--from royals and religious figures to the U.S. forces in Kosovo, who will be his audience today at the end of his second trip to Europe as president.

On Monday, he met with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister. Who better to seek out as a friend? Like Bush, he was a businessman before becoming a politician. He carried the nickname L'Americano as a boy. He sees himself as a bridge between the United States and the European Union.

On his first European trip, Bush went to Spain and visited with King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. This time, it was off to Buckingham Palace for lunch with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

Bush has yet to plunge into the realpolitik of Germany and France, where Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac, professional Europols from the start, hold sway. They are not enamored of some of the new U.S. president's signature policies--skeptical of his missile defense plan and downright hostile to his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Berlusconi praised Bush's spontaneous and natural manner at the Group of 8 summit in Genoa, Italy, that ended Sunday.

"In politics," Berlusconi said, "we were always beating around the bush and we were taking things from the left or the right, up, down and so on. With President Bush, everything is simple."

Bush, who with the other leaders at Genoa remained safely behind a two-story fence of wire mesh and shipping containers, ventured out in Rome.

His first stop on arrival in the city Sunday: the Forum. He offered his services as a tour guide to a group of reporters who accompanied him. It was his second visit to Rome.

"The steps where the orators used to speak are right over there. Is anybody interested? I've got about a 45-minute address for you, anybody interested?"

There were no takers, and as he gave up, he inquired: "You've heard it before?"

Soon after he stepped from his limousine in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence, for his audience with Pope John Paul II, Bush greeted 11 members of an elite Vatican society known as the Gentlemen of His Holiness, middle-aged and older men wearing cutaways and various medallions on their chests.

Bush put a Texas touch into his greeting: He grabbed each man's right elbow with his left hand as they shook hands. This is most definitely not European style, but nobody flinched.

Eighteen Swiss Guards were on duty. Michelangelo is said to have inspired their pantaloons and tunics of red, yellow and blue vertical stripes.

Atop a stairway, the pope and the president shook hands.

Their dialogue went like this:

The pope: "I know you were at the Forum in Rome yesterday."

The president: "Yes sir, it was so beautiful. And this place is beautiful."

The pope: "Popes come here in the summer."

The president: "Yes sir, I understand that, and I can see why. It's so beautiful."

Protocol calls for visitors to address the pope as "Your Holiness." Eventually, Bush switched to that form of address. And the pope led him by the hand to their private meeting.

In Genoa, where about 100,000 people protested the work of the Group of 8 leaders and a policeman shot one protester dead, not all was siege, riot and tragedy.

Sitting in his forest service truck, water hoses coiled in the back ready for use against charging demonstrators--none were in sight--a forest ranger in woodsy green and matching bulletproof vest said he had been brought in from his post near the Adriatic Sea to join the law-enforcement brigade.

He was stationed opposite the two-story brick structure believed to have been the home of Christopher Columbus. It was late afternoon, and he had been on duty for more than 10 hours.

The ranger, who would identify himself only as Fabio, expressed sympathy for the protesters' causes, but not their tactics.

"I'm with them," he said, favoring their concerns about Africa and its staggering debt. But his support had limits--the tumult they brought to the old city's streets.

"They broke everything," he said.

*

Staff writer Richard Boudreaux contributed to this report.

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