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Europeans Ready to 'Turn the Page' on Disputes With U.S.

Leaders Expected to Try to Mend Ties With Bush During Visit, Despite Public Hostility Toward Him

By Keith Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page A11

PARIS, Feb. 19 -- When George W. Bush made his first trip to Europe as president, in 2001, his visit touched off widespread protests and derisive press commentary. Thousands of demonstrators marched through Goteborg, Sweden, and dozens bared their backsides for a "mass mooning" at Bush's hotel. He was lampooned as a "Toxic Texan" who threatened the environment, and an intellectual lightweight whose every gaffe was gleefully chronicled -- like his reference to Africa as "a nation."

Then came the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which was deeply unpopular on the continent and seemed to confirm Europeans' worst fears that the American president was a reckless "cowboy," as he was often dubbed in the news media.

But as he arrives Sunday in Brussels, kicking off the first European visit of his second term, Bush will find European leaders going to enormous lengths to try to repair relationships that many analysts say had became dangerously frayed. And while Bush remains deeply unpopular in Europe, this time there will probably be fewer large-scale protests, and far less hostility in the media.

European policymakers, commentators and the public still may not like Bush, but they seem resigned to the fact that he will be in power for the next four years and that they must find a way to coexist.

"I don't think Bush is any more popular then he was before, but people, like politicians, are realistic," said Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform. "They know they have to live with Bush for the next four years."

Pierre Lelouche, a pro-American member of the French senate, said: "There is definitely a will on both sides to turn the page, and at least create a new atmosphere in the relationship. . . . The U.S. has learned it needs allies and there are limits to its military power. And the Europeans have learned that [Bush] is fundamentally supported by the American people, who gave him four million more votes."

Several recent developments have helped encourage rapprochement. First, the Jan. 30 Iraqi election was more successful than many in Europe had predicted. While it did not alter the widespread European view that the invasion was wrong, it did seem to temper the criticism, while making European governments opposed to the war more ready to lend assistance to Iraq.

The slow but unmistakable movement toward peace in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has also helped. For reasons of geography and history, Europeans pay far closer attention to the issue than most Americans do. Over the last four years, Europeans have blamed Bush and his close embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the continuing violence in the region.

In an effort to mend fences, Europe's political leaders have been rushing to make sure Bush has something tangible to take home from his trip. The NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has been pressing member states to commit to helping Iraq in some form before Bush visits the alliance's Brussels headquarters Tuesday. The European Union has also been putting the final touches on an agreement to begin training Iraqi police officers in areas like criminal investigations.

But while Europe's leaders appear eager to mend the strained relationship, the public remains largely hostile to Bush and skeptical of the administration's intentions. A survey this month by the German Marshall Fund found that half of all those surveyed in France and Germany thought Bush's reelection would worsen trans-Atlantic relations. A larger percentage in both countries said a stronger U.S. role in the world was undesirable.

But the public antipathy toward Bush and his overseas policies is mingled with affection for the American people and many things American.

"I don't like Bush, and I was against invading Iraq, and I'm against his way of imposing what he wants on the world," said Bruno Hoybel, 40, a car parts salesman, eating in a McDonald's restaurant here. "I'm not against Americans, just their policies. But I'm happy to be sitting here in McDonald's. You've got to admire what America has achieved, and the good things they bring over here, like clothes."

At the Coffee Parisian, an American bar on the Left Bank, the walls are plastered with photographs of President John F. Kennedy, the paper placemats bear the likenesses of all the past U.S. presidents and the menu offers cheeseburgers and pancakes.

Laetitia Valadié, 23, a waitress, said, "I don't like Bush because he's a manipulator, and he should never have invaded Iraq. He's like a little boy who's controlled by his parents. He doesn't take his own initiative, and I find that very scary," she said.

At The Refuge, a working-class Parisian café, Eric Braquemont, 45, who is unemployed, said, "Bush wants to make sure that when he comes here he gets everything his own way. Things can get better, but Bush has to come toward France. I don't know why he was so angry with France -- all we did was say we weren't going to war."

Manager Emile Dupont, a grizzled man with a thick, nicotine-stained moustache, said, "To see someone like that with so much power terrifies me. But I have lots of American customers, and we get on really well. After 9/11 I kept the bar open 24 hours so the Americans who live around here would have somewhere they could watch the TV and be together."

He added, "I'm not anti-American, I'm anti-stupidity."

Special correspondent Alexandra Topping contributed to this report.

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