President Bush Begins Trip to Europe, Middle East
The president will first visit Poland, where he will thank President Aleksander Kwasniewski for his support in Iraq and meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the future of transatlantic relations.
He will then meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and attend ceremonies observing the city of St. Petersburg’s 300th anniversary. After that, Mr. Bush heads to the French spa town of Evian, where he and other leaders from the world’s eight leading industrialized nations will attend the three-day Group of Eight economic summit beginning June 1.
The summit will be the first meeting for the heads of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia since the beginning of the controversial U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Besides the looming prospect of discussing the healing of U.S.-European relations, the summit will include a wide range of topics, including improving the global economy, promoting Middle East peace and fighting poverty, famine and AIDS in Africa.
While in Evian, President Bush plans to meet privately with French President Jacques Chirac, the summit’s host, who was a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion. France threatened to veto a United Nations resolution supporting the U.S. plan to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, and also worked against the U.S. to prevent NATO’s support for the military action.
In an interview published Friday in the French newspaper Le Figaro, President Bush said the meeting “will not be a summit of confrontation.”
“On this trip I am determined to work with France and French leaders… I expect to have a good discussion with Jacques Chirac,” the president said, adding, “Vive la France”.
However, President Bush admitted he is still not pleased with France’s refusal to support the war in Iraq.
“I’m disappointed and the American people are disappointed. But now is the time to move forward,” he told France 3 television.
In a newspaper interview this week, Chirac also expressed his confidence that the summit would yield positive results despite lingering concerns.
“Although there is some anxiety, I am convinced that Evian can convey a message of confidence in world economic growth,” he said.
The president will spend just over 24 hours at the Evian summit, leaving before a summit dinner and the reading of the final communique to travel to the Middle East for talks with Arab and Israeli leaders in the hopes of jumpstarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
At the Egyptian resort Sharm el Sheikh, he will meet with Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah bin Aziz and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. At Sharm el Sheikh, President Bush will encourage the leaders to accept Abbas as the new Palestinian authority figure, rather than Yasser Arafat, who was not invited to the talks.
Next Wednesday, the president will hold three-way talks with Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jordan. There, he will encourage the leaders to use his peace “road map” to set up a Palestinian state by 2005 and end the Middle East conflict.
The president will conclude his ambitious trip on Thursday, June 5, with a visit to American troops in Doha, Qatar, site of central command for the war in Iraq.