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Mr. Bush in Europe

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page B06

PRESIDENT BUSH'S visit to Europe beginning today has a different character from those of his first term. He goes not to attend obligatory summit meetings or to confer with governments that have been supportive of his policies but in an effort to refurbish the broader transatlantic relationship and to urge Europeans to join in his ambitious effort to spread democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. The fact that Mr. Bush perceives the need for partnership with Europe on what he has described as a generational project to address the causes of Islamic extremism is encouraging; even more so is his greater willingness to treat European governments as independent allies who must be coaxed and listened to.

Mr. Bush will flatter the European Union by spending three nights in Brussels and holding a formal meeting with the European Council. He will sup not only with friends such as Britain's Tony Blair but with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who led European opposition to the Iraq war. An encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia will conclude the trip. In his meetings and in an address in Brussels, Mr. Bush will press his neo-Wilsonian agenda of fostering democracies -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Palestinian Authority and, perhaps most controversially, in Iran. The idea is not so much to reach agreement about the details of strategy as to confirm the idea that there should be a common approach to these challenges, as there was to those of the Cold War.

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The president's job will be harder than it might sound. Though anxious to mend relations with the United States, European governments remain broadly skeptical about a Middle East strategy centered on "spreading freedom." Many don't entirely accept Mr. Bush's premise that a Cold War-like struggle against a global enemy is getting underway. They may be willing to help a little more with Iraq and Afghanistan and will support Palestinian state building. But they are less interested in elections than in prodding Israel for steps toward a peace settlement. They also are committed to a strategy of negotiating with Iran's existing regime about the country's nuclear program and are pressing for U.S. participation in an eventual bargain. And they have priorities not on Mr. Bush's list: global warming, aid for African development and U.S. acceptance of a lifting of Europe's embargo on arms sales to China.

It's possible to find common ground. A collaboration by more than 50 former senior officials and policy experts from both sides of the Atlantic organized by the Brookings Institution issued a paper last week spelling out potential compromise positions on almost every big issue. Europeans would offer not troops but far more aid and training to Iraq; the United States would agree not to the Kyoto Protocol but to separate limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Neither Mr. Bush nor his European counterparts are likely to be so pragmatic. Yet the president would be wise to make concessions to the Europeans on such issues as the environment and the international criminal court, if the result is greater receptivity to his own overarching agenda of "spreading freedom." If he can, with time, persuade Europeans to embrace that principle as a foundation for Western collaboration in the Middle East, Eurasia and beyond, his second term will be remembered for rescuing the alliances that nearly ruptured during his first.

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