Bush: European Trip Was 'Mission Accomplished'
Five nations, countless speeches and an introductory meeting with the Russian president under his belt, President Bush plopped down in a chair Sunday and exhaled the words, "Mission accomplished."
He had just completed a 45-minute news conference with Vladimir Putin at Slovenia's Brdo Palace, the last act of a grueling six-day European trip. The reviews were mixed, but this tired traveler was seeing only the bright side.
"I came to Europe to ... to express my administration's philosophy of engagement with Europeans," the president said.
His voice trailed, his thoughts slipping into a fog of exhaustion. "I was able to do so."
In Europe, Bush's objectives were as varied as his schedule:
—Madrid, Spain, for a symbolic visit to a nation tied closely to Latin America.
—Brussels, Belgium, for a NATO summit.
—Goteborg, Sweden, for a European Union summit.
—Warsaw, Poland, the heart of the former Soviet bloc, where Bush delivered the trip's cornerstone speech at the Warsaw Public Library.
—Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, where he met Putin for the first time and said the Russian showed surprising "receptivity" to his missile defense dreams.
As Air Force One neared Brussels, White House chief of staff Andrew Card spelled out one of Bush's top objectives: shatter the myth in Europe that he is a go-it-alone cowboy who is not quite up to the job.
"Every president is a caricature in Europe until his first trip," Card said. "They don't know him yet. They will."
Within hours, NATO leaders were hearing Bush's pitch for a shield that theoretically could protect the United States and its allies against missile attack.
Germany and France led the opposition, raising doubts about whether a missile shield could be built and expressing fears that a successful deployment would trigger an arms race. Several lesser powers, including Poland and Italy, backed Bush.
He won nobody over, but apparently lost no support, either.
It was a draw, too, in Sweden, where European Union leaders emerged from meetings with Bush promising to "agree to disagree" over his global warming views. The EU said it would continue backing a 1997 emissions-curbing treaty — though not a single member nation has ratified it — while Bush presses a more modest agenda focused for now on research.
The diplomatic truce, carefully orchestrated to paper over the schism between Europe and America, lasted as long as it took Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson to find a TV camera.
"We think that he chose the wrong policies," Persson said before the U.S. delegation had time to clear out of the news conference site. "I have the impression that he thinks the same way about Europe."
Several European leaders whispered to reporters outside the summits that they were surprised to find Bush forceful and confident in his views.
"The personal chemistry has been very good, very frank," said British Cabinet official Peter Hain, minister for Europe.
In Poland, the White House invited a friendly crowd of foreign policy dignitaries to Bush's address, urging the former communist state to become "a partner and an ally" of the United States and the West.
Though Bush also expressed concern for suspected nuclear commerce by Russia, Putin would later say the Warsaw stop was "a very good foundation on which to proceed." It set the tone for their meeting Saturday.
Bush had hoped to thaw the chill in U.S.-Russian relations over his plan to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the kind of missile defense he envisions. He argues that the offensive capabilities of "rogue" nations such as Iran and Iraq threaten the U.S. and its allies.
Focusing on the positive, Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press just after a joint conference with Putin that "nothing was rejected out of hand" by the Russian leader.
Putin himself hinted at the possibility of a "very constructive development" on the ABM issue, but nonetheless refused to budge, at least for now, on Russia's opposition. "The official position of the Russian government is known," Putin said.
They did agree to a series of talks by their top advisers, including military-to-military meetings, on missile defense and other issues that divide them. Bush and Putin will meet at least three more times this year, starting next month during Bush's second European trip.
Bush and Putin believe they took a genuine first step toward a new U.S.-Russian relationship.
"Can I trust him? I can," said Bush, who considers himself a quick judge of character. "I was able to get a sense of his soul."
The unimpeachable endorsement exposes Bush to criticism from conservatives — and political fallout if Putin wavers from democratic reforms or continues to press his case in Chechnya.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.