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The World | THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

President Faces a Tough Job of Mending Fences in Europe

June 04, 2004|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

ROME — President Bush arrived in Europe today to participate in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion, but his presence also heralded a new U.S. drive to mend relations that were badly frayed by the war in Iraq and to solicit broader support for efforts to rebuild that nation.

During a series of World War II commemorations in Italy and France through Sunday, Bush is likely to invoke memories of that war while calling for greater international participation in efforts to introduce democracy to Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

The president will continue those efforts next week as host of the annual Group of 8 summit in Sea Island, Ga., where he is expected to meet with more than 15 world leaders.

It is uncertain whether Bush will be able to make much progress. Opposition to his policies remains undiminished in many parts of the world. And at home, he faces the lowest job-approval ratings of his presidency, at less than 50%.

Transatlantic relations are at "one of the lowest points" since World War II, said Charles A. Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. He said he expected Bush and the other leaders to maintain a "facade of unity" during their meetings but make little genuine headway.

"These events will be anything but an opportunity for Bush to revel in diplomatic achievements," Kupchan said.

Even the European leaders who strongly backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, face heavy criticism at home as a result of the unabated violence in Iraq.

Bush, who arrived in Rome shortly after midnight, is scheduled to meet this morning with Pope John Paul II, who criticized the Iraq war and more recently spoke out against the U.S. treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Italy has about 2,700 troops in Iraq, the third-largest foreign presence there after U.S. and British forces.

Shortly after Berlusconi declared last month that Italian troops would stay in Iraq after the June 30 hand-over of sovereignty to the interim government in Baghdad, a survey found that 42% of Italians wanted their troops withdrawn after that date, 29% said Italy should withdraw its troops immediately and 23% said Italian troops should stay. In a separate poll, published at the end of May in the Italian magazine Espresso, 61% of Italians said they did not like Bush's foreign policy.

Polls elsewhere in Europe have turned up similar sentiments.

In both tone and substance, Kupchan said, Bush has "set Europe on edge."

But if the president was daunted by anti-American sentiments, he did not show it at the White House on Thursday during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, another strong ally.

"I will continue to discuss with world leaders our common responsibility to help the new government of Iraq, and our common opportunity to help ... advance the momentum of freedom in the broader Middle East," Bush said. "Freedom must succeed in Iraq. In the long run, the defeat of terror requires the triumph of hope. A free Iraq rising in the heart of the Middle East will show the people of that region a clear alternative to the bitterness that feeds terror."

In Paris, Bush will meet with French President Jacques Chirac, who, along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, actively opposed the Iraq war. On Sunday, Bush, Chirac and Schroeder will join many other world leaders in Normandy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-day.

Schroeder, a guest of Chirac, will be the first German leader to participate in D-day commemorations.

Bush has had a rocky relationship with Schroeder, who won a reelection campaign largely by criticizing U.S. policies.

In a briefing this week at the White House, Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, acknowledged past differences over Iraq but said governments were now focused on making Iraq free, prosperous and stable.

Besides Bush, officials who are expected to attend the G-8 summit include the leaders of fellow member nations Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. The leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Ghana, Jordan, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen are also expected to attend.

Noticeably absent from the gathering, at which Bush is expected to make a major push for democracy in the Middle East, will be the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

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Maria De Cristofaro in The Times' Rome Bureau contributed to this report.

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