SAVANNAH, Ga. – President Bush will seek to mollify allies dismayed by the U.S. war in Iraq and launch a plan for wider change in the Middle East when he hosts leaders from the world's richest nations this week.
His path could be smoothed after a trip to Europe for Sunday's commemorations of the 1944 D-Day landings in France marked by warm words in praise of a "steadfast friend" from key Iraq war opponent President Jacques Chirac (search) of France.
Bush, Chirac and leaders from Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia meet from Tuesday to Thursday on Sea Island in Georgia, a secluded resort that will be sealed to the outside world by thousands of soldiers and police using boat and helicopter patrols, road blocks and sniffer dogs.
Days before the annual summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, the United States is pressing for a new United Nations resolution on Iraq ahead of the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation on June 30.
Bush and Chirac, long at odds over Iraq, said after talks in Paris Saturday they hoped for agreement soon. U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) said Sunday that the U.N. Security Council was expected to be able to agree a new resolution in the next few days.
If the transatlantic alliance has come under intense strain over Iraq, discord was put aside for Sunday's anniversary of the D-day landings in World War II (search) as leaders paid tribute to the thousands of Allied troops who fought and died.
Chirac said France would never "forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally," while Bush said the United States and its European allies were bound together by the sacrifices of 60 years ago.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search), British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin were also at the ceremonies.
Middle East Initiative
Bush is anxious to press his case that Iraq can prompt wider change in the Middle East and the United States has made an initiative to promote reform in the region a center-piece of the Sea Island summit.
But Washington has scaled back its plans after an initial draft that emerged in February angered Arabs, who accused Washington of imposing its values. Europeans also fretted that the United States was ignoring their own Mideast reform efforts.
The plan now gives a prominent place to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes clear that reform in the region cannot be imposed from outside.
Bush has invited several Arab leaders to discuss his plans at a lunch Wednesday with other G8 leaders, but the Arab world's most influential nations -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- will not be represented.
Leaders from Iraq, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen as well as the leaders of two other Muslim nations, Turkey and Afghanistan, will be there.
Whatever concrete steps emerge from the summit, it and other high-level meetings in June present "a chance for the United States to address its critics on the world stage," said Nile Gardiner, an expert in U.S.-British relations at Washington think-tank the Heritage Foundation.
But the damage to U.S. -European relations from the Iraq war is too deep to be undone in a single meeting, said another analyst.
"I'm skeptical that the gathering at Sea Island will do much to repair the relationship," said Charles Kupchan, a professor of International Relations at Georgetown University.
"I expect there to be a show of unity and an agreement on outlines of a program to promote political reform in the broader Middle East, but I don't expect there to be a serious advance in the transatlantic dialogue," he said.
It was not clear yet whether the agenda would be affected by funeral ceremonies this week for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday aged 93.