Prague, 12 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today is dominated by commentary on U.S. President George W. Bush's 6-day visit to Europe, which begins in Spain today. Commentators focus on what message he will be attempting to communicate to European nations in light of recent charges of the U.S. administration's unilateralism. Other analyses look more closely at possible points of contention during Bush's trip, such as global warming and missile defense initiatives. The possibilities for renewed American engagement with Russia are also considered, in view of Bush's upcoming meeting in Ljubljana with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A commentary by Stephen Fidler in the "Financial Times" considers attempts by the Bush administration to allay European fears over recent policy proposals, and reflects on the changing relations between the two allies. The U.S. administration, he says, has become more conciliatory in its approach, promoting the benefits to Europe of a missile defense initiative, pledging to develop an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, and shifting its attitude toward Russia from one of dismissal to one of engagement. Fidler says the Americans will be attempting to both establish a rapport with European leaders and neutralize the hostility generated by the recent moves of the U.S. administration.
Fidler cites arguments that the demise of the Soviet Union has made the U.S. less relevant to European interests, and vice versa. At the same time, he says, Europe has "new pretensions about its own collective power." While U.S. efforts may "narrow or soften divisions," Fidler concludes, "there is something more fundamental at work beyond the change in U.S. administration: a gradual unraveling of the knots that tied the U.S. and Europe so closely together during the Cold War."
An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that Bush, in his recent softening on global warming and other policy issues, is "learning from his experience in office and undoing early blunders. [Certain] positions that might play well among right-wing Republicans look unrealistic when paraded on a world stage." The "Globe" cites U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's recent assurances that the U.S. president takes global warming "extremely seriously," and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's remarks that the U.S. will not abandon the joint mission in Bosnia.
Both statements, the paper says, were designed to "[ease] the way for Bush's debut on the world stage." Bush's meetings with world leaders will prove especially beneficial, the "Globe" adds, if he "heeds their counsel not to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty for missile defense schemes that remain technologically unworkable."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, says that on his European trip President Bush must respond to "a sense of drift in European affairs and to mounting European unease over what many perceive as a lack of strategic coherence in U.S. foreign policy. [The] president must convey a compelling sense of direction for trans-Atlantic relations."
Brzezinski writes that during his trip Bush will come face to face with the challenges of how to enlarge NATO without diluting its role in European security, how to shape a more equal role with a Europe that suspects the United States doesn't really want it to be united, and how to engage Russia without compromising U.S. support for both EU and NATO enlargement.
He says that the EU itself lacks "consensus about its future and scope [and suffers from] growing uncertainty over the desirability of EU enlargement [and a] lack of determination regarding the enlargement of NATO." U.S. policy is similarly ambiguous, he adds, and "seems to lack a clearly articulated and coherent strategy."
Brzezinski concludes: "Ultimately at issue is the nature of the longer-term American-European connection. At stake is the very character of the Euro-Atlantic community as the core of global stability. A larger Europe and a larger NATO [are] the imperative elements of a response to the new dilemmas of the post-Cold War era."
An editorial in "The Washington Post" calls upon Bush to take more decisive action on the issue of climate change. The paper says that, while the president has belatedly acknowledged global warming is an important problem, "his proposed remedies continue to fall short. He's right that much of climate science remains shrouded in uncertainty, wrong to suggest that such uncertainty justifies the relative inaction he calls for."
The editorial goes on to argue that Bush's proposals on global warming need to be "fleshed out." It says that on "the most important possible tool -- a market-based system to limit gas emission -- the president remains noncommittal."
The paper concludes that ultimately Bush's message is to "wait a little longer -- for new technology, more research, clearer answers." The European leaders that Bush is to meet with this week, it says, "aren't likely to find that very satisfactory."
NEW YORK TIMES:
A commentary in "The New York Times" by former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Robert Strauss looks at U.S.-Russian relations, and says that in spite of contrasting -- and sometimes conflicting -- interests, the two nations should be able to work together on common goals. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bush, Strauss writes, "are smart enough to look for what they have in common -- even as they defend their views on issues on which they disagree." He adds that "successful negotiations will always depend on building personal trust, particularly on the most difficult issues of national missile defense and NATO enlargement."
Strauss writes that, like it or not, the actions of each nation influence the other, and concludes: "We are all better off if Russia is a partner rather than a problem. Americans will need Russia's cooperation and contribution in handling international problems like terrorism, environmental threats, and the spread of HIV and AIDS."
In "The Washington Post," commentator Jackson Diehl looks at U.S. relations with Russia in the light of Saturday's (16 June) scheduled meeting between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia. Diehl says that recent attempts by human rights activists to re-focus international attention on the war in Chechnya have met with little or no response from either Moscow or Washington. Neither the Russian nor the U.S. government, he writes, want to acknowledge that "the campaign by the Russian military and police against Chechnya's separatists has degenerated into a full-fledged dirty war, complete with disappearances, mass graves, systematic torture, and summary execution of civilians."
In its scale and ferocity, Diehl continues, the conflict in Chechnya "far exceeds the campaign that [former] Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic waged against the Albanians of Kosovo before NATO intervention. [Faced] with this powerful evidence of atrocities, Western governments were silent."
He quotes special State Department adviser John Beyrle as asking: "What kind of long-term relationship can we pursue with a government that wages a brutal and seemingly endless war against its own people on its own territory?" Two days later, Diehl notes, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice announced that U.S.-Russia relations were "becoming a normal relationship."
Diehl concludes: "Because the politics of missile defense demand that Mr. Putin's government be recognized as worthy of a long-term partnership with the United States, [we have returned to the] central tenet of Cold War diplomacy: that it is Moscow's strategic cooperation, and not its treatment of its own people, that really matters."
An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" says that Bush has arrived in Europe for what it calls a "delicate" visit, and notes that in his six days on the Continent he will be forced to address many contentious subjects. It cites European discontent about U.S. missile defense plans, Bush's repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol on emission controls, and new doubts surrounding the U.S. commitment to the Balkans.
The editorial also says, "by a coincidence of the calendar, this visit has been preceded by Monday's execution of Timothy McVeigh in an Indiana penitentiary." It says that the execution has been strongly condemned by Spain, Germany, and the European Parliament, and adds, "On the occasion of the execution, President Bush has reaffirmed his attachment to capital punishment, and emphasized that this execution was an act of justice, not vengeance."
"Le Monde" notes that Bush's arrival in Madrid comes only a few days after the return to Spain of 29-year-old Joaquin Jose Martinez, who was greeted with a hero's welcome after being condemned to death in Florida. Martinez was finally acquitted after having remained on death row for 1,144 days. The paper notes that Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar has pledged to raise the issue of capital punishment with President Bush and to seek a dialogue on the controversial practice, which has been abolished by almost every European nation on human rights grounds.