An Uncertain Welcome: President Bush’s First Trip to Europe
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GWEN IFILL: For more on President Bush’s trip to Europe, we welcome three European journalists and one American: Christiane Meier, a U.S. correspondent for ARD, a German television network; Sylvie Kauffman, New York bureau chief for the French newspaper, Le Monde; and Toby Harnden, bureau chief of the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London. The American is Fareed Zakharia, editor of Newsweek International.
Christiane is all that editorial we just saw — is that real tension or is it just editorial tension?
CHRISTIANE MEIER: It might be both. I think in a way it’s real tension because the Europeans and especially the Germans feel that they have been approached in a way they didn’t really appreciate. They didn’t feel they were consulted in all of the questions but rather than informed than consulted but everybody called it consulting. So I think the reaction has a lot to do with that the way they were approached and I think behind that there are a couple of really tense issues like missile defense, which is very worrying for the Germans and for the rest of Europe as well, and also the Kyoto Treaty.
GWEN IFILL: Sylvie Kauffman, hyperbole or real?
SYLVIE KAUFFMAN: Well, I think President Bush has two problems: The first one is a problem of his personal image with the media and the public opinion, which, frankly, this image is really terrible. He’s still seen as a weak president who got badly elected without getting the majority of the popular vote. He’s seen as the executioner in chief as governor of Texas and for… in this respect it was very unfortunate for him that Timothy McVeigh had to be executed the day he left for Europe, which made sure that all the headlines were there on the front pages yesterday.
And on the other level of course you can hope that European governments are a little bit more settled and that they are aware that this is a new administration, which is probably still in the process of formulating its policies. But there has been a style of this administration, which has very much shocked European government in your face style – you know — going alone — take it or leave it, which with regard to of course the Kyoto protocol on global warming, as you said, but as well as on some issues like the international criminal court – on coordinated fight against money laundering. A whole range of issues have been dealt with in a very unsettling way for Europeans.
GWEN IFILL: Toby Harnden, you were a part of the group of journalists who got to interview the president yesterday. Do you think he saw all this coming?
TOBY HARNDEN: I think at the beginning of his administration certainly not. I think that I would say would be the single biggest failure of the diplomacy a failure to explain oneself. I thought it was quite striking that Condoleezza Rice said that she was very surprised by the surprise in Europe about the rejection of Kyoto because it had been so widely talked about in the debates and during the campaign.
So clearly I think there was a failure on the administration’s part to realize the difference in perception certainly in Europe over these issues. But I do think that the problems that do exist, the tensions that exist have been exaggerated. I think we have had this before — under Reagan the beginning of the Clinton administration so to some extent these are perennial concerns we have, but it’s part of the values gap, the perception gap between the U.S. and Europe, which is a very different continent.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed Zakaria is it real gap, or is it just a perception?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, it’s a real gap, but we have to remember that Europe and United States have disagreed vehemently on policy ever since the beginning of the Atlantic Alliance. I mean, European attitudes toward the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Grenada, Euro missiles, Nicaragua were all much, much stronger; compared to that these complaints are frankly quite reasonable differences that can be bridged.
There is another thing, however, going on. It’s not just American unilateralism at work here. It is the fact that European nations are increasingly utterly self-absorbed. They are basically concerned with the building of the European Union, which is a great and historic enterprise, but has produced a common foreign policy that is frankly embarrassing. Whether you look on issues relating to the Balkans – whether you look on even on the environment on which Bush has taken a lot of heat, in fact, Europe has been utterly irresponsible, paying lip service to Kyoto while doing absolutely nothing. They are wide off the mark in hitting the targets that Kyoto sets out.
So Europe has its own part to play in this. And my fear is that you have two societies — Europe and the United States — that both for their own reasons have become somewhat self-absorbed and are not paying enough attention to the mutual interests that really sustain this alliance.
GWEN IFILL: Christiane Meier, let’s start talking about Kyoto. Is the Kyoto Agreement something that is never going to pass in the United States, never going to be ratified here, something that only one country, Romania, has bothered to ratify? Do Germans – does the German public feel that it’s justified to be as upset as they have been over the president’s determination that he would just jettison that and come up with something else?
CHRISTIANE MEIER: Yes. Definitely. It is a surprising thing for me as a European to listen to a colleague and hear how little they react to the real concerns of Europeans, and maybe they’re more sensitive than Americans towards global warming. But it is a real concern. And the latest poll show that 80 percent of the Europeans – actually a poll from today — would agree that in the European nations and nations involved in the Kyoto protocol would ratify that without the United States. I think that is not a good idea because the United States, and I think that is certainly not a very good idea because the United States contributes 25 percent of all the greenhouse gases. So it would be much better not to talk in ways of irresponsibility or tensions — but just talk about topics.
GWEN IFILL: This is not European self-absorption?
CHRISTIANE MEIER: I don’t think so at all. I think it’s real concern about a real topic. And maybe that is part of the problem; that Europe feels they’re not taken seriously – they’re not taken seriously by the Americans or, yeah in this case the American administration I should say.
GWEN IFILL: Toby Harnden, how about the antiballistic missile treaty and missile defense that the president is pushing? Is this something which there is room for negotiation, minds that can be changed?
TOBY HARNDEN: I think certainly. I think the ground has begun to ship. I mean, it was interesting at the beginning of the administration when Rumsfeld went over to Europe that European leaders began to, I think to accept that missile defense was going to happen. And it was a question of how to manage and deal with it.
The situation is slightly changed now because of the change of control in the Senate, which means that the Europeans who really don’t want missile defense to happen have now got a hope that the Democrats in the Senate will block it. But I think that the grounds is shifting on missile defense but if you look at Tony Blair’s position in Britain it’s nudge, nudge, wink, wink, and you know, I don’t want to say anything publicly for fear of upsetting the left wing of my party in a election which we have now had. But I will support you.
And I think also if you look at the way of Bush administration have handled the ABM Treaty and missile defense it has been more clever than the way they handled Kyoto. They are consulting and they are seeking to bring people with them before reaching or announcing a conclusion.
GWEN IFILL: Sylvie Kauffman, how about the notion that Fareed Zakaria proposed that this is a problem about European Union self-absorption and not so much about what President Bush is or is not bringing or saying?
SYLVIE KAUFFMAN: I do agree that Europe at the moment is very much focused on its… On building Europe and on internal problems. You know, this is a very difficult process. It’s taking a lot of its energy. But I disagree when he says that we’re just having… That Europe is having an irresponsible policy and therefore, not really I think the way this administration has handled the Kyoto issue, the global warming issue is really… This is the major sticking point as my British colleague just said. Nuclear missile defense will be resolved. The dialogue is going on and the administration… American administration had a very different approach to it.
But Kyoto is a very deep concern not only for government but for public opinions. It’s not true to say that we’re just paying lip service to this treaty. I think Spain actually has ratified it – not only Romania. But governments are committed to ratifying it. The European Union yesterday again expressed its commitment to reach the targets, which the protocol calls for by 2012 — the targets of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And this is a very, very deep issue.
You know, we had this problem before I think with genetically modified food. I don’t think that the Americans were taken the Europeans seriously on this before and finally the positions got closer and this issue… This issue is now taken very seriously here as well.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed Zakaria, it seems we have two issues here: One is that the Europeans are not taking Americans seriously, and the other that – I mean, the Americans are not taking the Europeans seriously and the other is the flip — that people aren’t taking President Bush seriously; that he looks like a cowboy to them. Is there any way that he can end up undercutting his own expectations on this trip? I guess what I’m trying to say is the expectations are so low is there any way that he won’t meet them?
FAREED ZAKARIA: I hope he’ll meet them because it won’t be good for the alliance if he doesn’t. Look, I think that there are some genuine disagreements. I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t. And I think that the Bush team has been unnecessarily provocative. But my point is really take Kyoto.
It’s all very well to say that one is in favor of it but it requires specific actions that involve frankly reducing economic growth in order to meet these targets. Not one European government has done anything about that. It seems easier to say in the abstract we want this, but it would require in order to meet these targets – you would have to go through substantial recessions in Europe in order to hit these targets by 2012. Or take defense spending. Europe says it wants to have its own defense capability because it wants to be a serious player; yet they’re cutting defense budgets by 5 percent every year while at the same time the rhetoric is that they’re going to build defense capabilities. That’s what I mean by irresponsible.
You can’t simply mouth the rhetoric of environmentalism or a serious defense policy and not achieve it. So I would wish that Europe would pick up the gauntlet and become more serious in substantive terms and I do very much wish that Bush would be more serious, listen more carefully, consult a great deal more because — as I say — in historical terms these are not great differences. Most of them can be bridged. On the environment both sides do want to achieve some kind of practical solution. On missile defense frankly no deployment is going to take place for the next ten years in all likelihood. So we’re talking about something that, you know, it’s extraordinary. We have managed to take a research program that doesn’t really work and have united the world in opposition against it.
GWEN IFILL: Sorry. Toby Harnden, is it important that the president is not going to London, Paris or Berlin on this trip?
TOBY HARNDEN: I think it’s noteworthy. I mean, he has seen the leaders of those three countries in Washington but I think he’s wanted to send out a number of messages. He’s going to Spain, which is one of the two center right governments in Europe. He’s obviously not going to have the same third way relationship with the center left governments that President Clinton had. So I think that’s the difference. I think that clearly it’s a nod to the Hispanic folk in the United States. And this is a president who was Governor of Texas. His international dealings in so far he had any have been with Mexico – he’s said he wants to look to the Pacific. I think we are going to see a change of emphasis in that he’s not going to look solely toward Europe and Europe I think… I mean the flip side as you indicated of is that Europe — there is a challenge there for Europe to and that is to take Mr. Bush seriously. And they need to get his attention.
GWEN IFILL: Christiane Meier, is it important he’s not going to those major capitals?
CHRISTIANE MEIER: No, I don’t think, because as my colleagues said they have met and I think it’s now or more on the issues on the transatlantic relationships between America and Europe — as Europe and not so much on particular, you know meetings with heads of state. But I think that his big chance on this trip is that he makes not only himself known and doesn’t have sort of nice dinner conversations, the chance that he gets cross that he is changing his approach and that he’s listening to Europe.
GWEN IFILL: Sylvie Kauffman is that all he has to do this week or is that very important to do in one week?
SYLVIE KAUFFMAN: Yes, it is a very important visit, absolutely. I’m not troubled by the fact he’s not going to Paris or Berlin or London. He’s going to meet the whole group of European leaders in Sweden. So this is actually a very good approach to meet the European Union as such. And he’s going to Brussels as well so this is not a problem. It maybe better because a visit in Paris right now might have be been a little controversial. I think only good can come out of this visit because he will listen and the Europeans will listen to him as well and this administration has already showed as you showed in your segment that there was a lot of pragmatism going on as well and it’s….
GWEN IFILL: Okay.
SYLVIE KAUFFMAN: Sorry.
GWEN IFILL: No, that’s all right. Thank you very much. We’ll all be watching it all week long. Thank you.