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Western Press Review: U.S.-EU, Bush-Putin, NATO, Goteborg Summit

Prague, 18 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the conclusion of U.S. President George W. Bush's first official trip to Europe and the results of his Saturday meeting in Slovenia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In light of these events commentators reconsider issues such as the future of Russia-U.S. relations, NATO enlargement and missile defense. Commentary also addresses the European Union's summit in Goteborg, Sweden, and the violent street protests that took place as the EU leaders convened in the city.


An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at Bush's vision for the future of Europe as outlined during his European visit last week. The paper calls Bush's proposals for the rapid enlargement of NATO and the abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "bold moves [that are] not without risks." It notes that both propositions threaten to provoke Russia, but adds that the agreement reached on Saturday (16 June) between Bush and Putin to hold two further meetings is a promising sign.

The paper also says that Bush's attempt to recast Russia in the role of an ally instead of an enemy is a welcome development. It writes: "The [U.S.] administration is betting that Mr. Putin will at some point acquiesce in NATO enlargement and the demise of the ABM treaty. Not because he has no choice but because both developments would serve his country's interest. The argument is that if Russia is no longer an enemy of the U.S., it has no reason to feel threatened."

The editorial goes on to say that in recommending this "inclusive" approach, Bush has succeeded in "[setting] out an important principle: no country, not even Russia, can dictate the security arrangements of the Continent. Thus, any country that meets the requirements of NATO membership must be considered."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" also assesses Bush's proposals for NATO expansion. It writes, "[His] agenda should reassure those who have worried about American disengagement from Europe," and adds: "Mr. Bush [has] set the stage for far-reaching U.S. engagement with countries ranging from the Baltic states to those of the troubled Balkans. [To] keep faith with its newly articulated vision, the Bush administration must be ready to respond to those nations -- and not only in some far-off future when they are full NATO members." The paper goes on to say, "Already, [the administration] may be falling short: Last week Mr. Bush suggested that he is not willing to commit U.S. troops to help Macedonia, though Macedonia is one of the NATO candidate countries."

The editorial also notes that "[Bush's] vision of Europe's future includes a long-term partnership with Russia." It writes: "[Without] Russian cooperation or at least acquiescence, NATO expansion will be more difficult, and the new strategic framework may prove unworkable."

However, the paper adds that "the United States should not forge a partnership with a Russia that violates democracy, bullies its neighbors, and brutalizes its own people." It writes that President Bush was right to suggest, as he did in Warsaw, that Russia's actions domestically will determine what future role it plays in Europe. The editorial notes, however, that Bush: "gave no public sign that he delivered that message to [Putin]. In fact, his fawning praise of the Russian leader [sent] just the opposite signal." The editorial concludes: "Democracy in Russia must be a condition of, and not subordinate to, a new strategic bargain."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that the most important thing Bush accomplished on his trip was to "assure Europe's national leaders that his administration supports the Continent-wide amity they are trying to forge." The editorial adds that President Bush "confounded" his critics because "it soon became evident that Mr. Bush had more ideological allies than enemies." The paper describes the Bush administration's foreign policy as "based on a realization that the Cold War is really, really [over]. [And] -- an important corollary -- America is a partner to [the European] Continent."

"The Wall Street Journal Europe" also says that Bush's emphasis that "Russia is a part of Europe," and therefore does not need a buffer zone separating it from the Continent, was a successful diplomatic coup. It quotes President Putin as reportedly responding to these remarks by saying: "I am so grateful that finally these words have been spoken. This means so much to us."

The paper says that the policy of including Russia in a future Europe does not "betray ignorance of [the] reality in Russia." Instead, the editorial concludes, it is part of the process of the normalization of relations: "[It] only [says] that we accept you as normal, [so] you should now start behaving this way."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" writes that while by all accounts U.S. President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have "begun to build a good personal relationship," there is still reason to remain skeptical about the future of U.S.-Russia relations. The paper notes that Russia entered the Ljubljana summit in a very strong position, with Putin having arrived from a meeting in Shanghai with the "Shanghai Six" regional alliance. That meeting had reaffirmed the countries' belief that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was "the cornerstone of global stability and disarmament."

Putin arrived in Ljubljana "with the backing of China on this key issue," the paper writes, while President Bush "arrived there having attended a [NATO] summit in Brussels [at] which the alliance [was] sharply divided." The paper notes that this state of affairs underscored the idea that "should the United States go ahead with the NMD plan on its own, it will have done so against the wishes not only of Russia and China but also of some of its European allies."

While Putin welcomed the idea of cooperation on international security, he added that "any unilateral action could serve to make existing differences even more complicated." President Bush has so far resisted the temptation to press ahead with missile defense on a unilateral basis, the paper writes, adding, "[Bush's] commitment to further consultations within NATO as well as with Russia and possibly China gives ground for encouragement."


An editorial in the "Christian Science Monitor" writes that "[President] Bush's most lasting statement on this trip was that 'every European nation that struggles toward democracy and free markets and a strong civic culture must be welcomed into Europe's home.'" The paper adds that Bush "defined the American-European alliance as having a 'shared civilization' based on classical and Judeo-Christian values" -- among them consideration and respect, compassion and forgiveness, traced to a source of law and justice that is beyond politics.

The paper quotes Bush as saying: "[The United States and Europe] share more than an alliance. We share a civilization. Its values are universal, and they pervade our history and our partnership." The "Monitor" says that "Supporting Russia to live up to those ideals, rather than only confronting it on its failings, was just the message Bush needed to deliver."


In a news analysis in the "International Herald Tribune," John Vinocur writes that European evaluations of U.S. President Bush's first official trip to the Continent have been generally positive, whether from his traditional allies or his staunchest critics.

Vinocur writes: "Even on global warming, the raw sound of criticism of the Americans had diminished. [Yet], in a real way," he continues, "Mr. Bush gave away nothing in terms of policy affecting Europe. [In] its most essential sense, [American] policy on Europe melded NATO and the EU together into a single conceptual entity, with NATO's preeminence and the American leadership role in it an unmistakable reality."

Vinocur quotes President Bush as saying: "The Europe we are building must include Ukraine, [The] Europe we are building must also be open to Russia." He says that as Bush urged the EU to extend this inclusive approach to all of the old Soviet states, EU commissioner for external affairs Chris Patten "flinched noticeably." Patten later commented: "The United States is not a member of the EU. I don't imagine for one moment that the United States intends to overlook that rather important consideration."

Vinocur notes that President Bush seems to have intended to "reinforce the U.S. view that its involvement in Europe remains irreplaceable. Still," he concludes, "there was virtually no willingness among the European leaders at their meeting [in Goteborg] to challenge that approach."


In an analysis in the French daily "Le Monde," correspondent Laurent Zecchini writes that at last week's Goteborg summit, Europeans and Americans tended to focus on their common interest in boosting world economic growth rather than dwell on their differences regarding climate change. President Bush, Zecchini writes, showed a willingness to integrate developing countries into world trade relationships, and to attempt to address the needs of societies, as well as industries, while strengthening access to markets. He notes that Bush emphasized that a strong European Union is also good for the United States and that healthy trans-Atlantic competition is a mutually desired goal.

With respect to climate change, Zecchini writes that "Washington maintains that the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol 'are not realistic,' while not disputing the reality [and] seriousness of the situation. Presented in this way," he says, "the trans-Atlantic division [on this issue] does not seem so crippling."

Zecchini notes that at least on paper, American positions seem convergent with those of Europe. He concludes that on the occasion of the Europeans' first chance to get acquainted with the new American president, the communique from Goteborg was as agreeable as possible.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" writes that the European Union at Goteborg will be primarily remembered for the visit by the U.S. president and what it calls "a remarkably nasty riot." The paper adds that "the EU is developing a reputation as a scold," whether reprimanding the Irish for voting against the Nice Treaty or admonishing the U.S. on its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

However, the "Journal" adds that the summit's "setting the end of next year as the possible date for the first round of enlargement [revives] a momentum that was being squandered last year." It adds, "EU leaders must also muster the political will to facilitate enlargement, first by adopting a more flexible position on labor mobility and second by drastically paring down the Common Agriculture Policy so that its costs can be borne in an enlarged Union."


A "Financial Times" editorial writes that the violence on the streets of Goteborg during the EU summit "had little or nothing to do with protests against the European Union." It adds that the destruction was caused mainly by what it calls "international anarchists spoiling for a fight."

The paper notes that such protest marked by violence "does nothing to promote the cause of the peaceful protesters who genuinely fear the consequences of globalization. Nor does it help those who are concerned about the activities and opaque processes of the EU and other international organizations."

It adds: "It would be simplistic and counterproductive to lump [the protesters] all into one category of people 'alienated' by the complexity and distance of modern government. Yet there is a danger of that happening," the paper says. This sense of disconnection "is a response to the lack of transparency, clarity, and democracy in EU decision-making," the paper continues. But despite the violence outside, it writes, "the EU leaders made good progress [in] firming up their target dates for EU enlargement. Yet their own electorates remain to be convinced that it is a good idea." Dissenters of all kinds, the paper concludes, need to be "persuaded, not ignored."