WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to have dinner with French President Jacques Chirac (search) during a European trip next month, beginning the first overseas trip of his second term by working on a relationship that was damaged in his first term.
Chirac opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq, leaving ties between Paris and Washington in tatters. Both sides are indicating now that they want to improve their relationship, and the White House also is planning to host Chirac in the United States some time soon.
"The president looks forward to working together with President Chirac and all our European allies to strengthen freedom, democracy and security throughout the world," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday.
Bush said in his inaugural address last week that the United States will depend on its allies to help promote democracy across the globe in his second term.
McClellan said Bush and Chirac will have a working dinner on Feb. 21 in Brussels on the eve of a day of meetings with leaders of NATO (search) and the European Union.
The meeting is a departure from last spring, when Bush said Chirac shouldn't expect an invitation to his beloved Texas ranch "any time soon."
During the run-up to the November election, Bush ridiculed rival John Kerry for letting "countries like France" decide when to use American force.
Chirac has been perhaps Bush's harshest, but far from only, European critic. Bush also plans to stop in Germany, another opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, also an Iraqi war critic, on a stop in the Slovak Republic during his visit to Europe.