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U.S.: Bush Expects Trip To Mark New Era In U.S.-Russia Relations

U.S. President George W. Bush leaves the White House tomorrow for an important trip to Europe and Russia. As RFE/RL reports, Bush's trip will include stops in Germany, Italy, and France, but will mostly serve to underscore the new and evolving U.S. relationship with Russia.

Washington, 21 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush departs tomorrow for a weeklong tour of Europe and Russia highlighted by the signing of a treaty with Moscow on arms control and a ceremony in Rome marking the new NATO-Russia Council.

Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Bush's trip will mark historic changes in relations between the West and Russia.

"The president will help usher in a new relationship between the United States and Russia based on increasingly common interests and mutual trust. He will advance that relationship with President [Vladimir] Putin by signing a historic treaty that codifies the most dramatic strategic-arms reductions in history and by launching the NATO-Russian Council in Italy, along with his NATO counterparts," Rice said.

But not all will be rosy for Bush, who is also expected to be met by thousands of demonstrators protesting White House policies on the Middle East, the environment, and trade when he arrives in the German capital, Berlin, tomorrow evening.

Bush is scheduled to hold talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and to deliver a speech on a "Europe whole and free" to the German parliament, the Bundestag, before traveling to Moscow on Thursday to sign a treaty with Putin on cutting strategic nuclear arms by two-thirds.

After three days in Russia, including a visit to Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, Bush will stop in Paris and Rome, where the new NATO-Russia Council, which gives Moscow a voice in some alliance decisions, will be formally launched. Bush is also scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before flying back to Washington on 28 May.

Yesterday, Rice told a briefing that Bush will use his European stops to mark the progress that has been made toward a vision he laid out in a speech in Warsaw last June, when he called for NATO to bring in more new members from the former Soviet bloc when it meets next November in Prague in a bid to build a united and peaceful Europe that includes a new place for Russia.

Rice said that after meeting with Schroeder on Thursday morning to discuss the war on terrorism, relations with Russia, and bilateral issues, Bush is expected to pick up on his Warsaw theme in a speech later that day to a special session of the Bundestag.

"He will outline his vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and discuss Europe's and the United States' hard work and joint success in realizing the vision as we approach the NATO summit in Prague. The president looks forward to conveying this historic message from the united capital of a united Germany at the heart of a united Europe," Rice said.

However, Bush's stay is likely to be marked by massive street protests in which Schroeder's coalition partners, the Greens, are expected to voice their opposition to U.S. foreign and economic policy.

Bush will be joined in Berlin by his wife, Laura, who is already in Europe, and the two are expected to arrive in Moscow later Thursday. He will first meet one-on-one with Putin and later hold an expanded bilateral meeting. After that meeting, Rice said the two presidents will sign the treaty.

"This agreement, which is a mere three pages long and took only six months to negotiate, signifies that the vestiges of the Cold War are behind the two countries and sets the stage for a new era of cooperation and friendship," Rice said.

However, Rice said Bush will also discuss Russia's nuclear-technology transfers to Iran, a country Bush says sponsors terrorism and is part of an "axis of evil," together with Iraq and North Korea. Rice said they will also discuss nonproliferation efforts aimed at ensuring that none of Russia's vast nuclear-, chemical-, or biological-arms stockpiles fall into the hands of terrorists.

There will also be several other joint statements on the broader aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, according to Rice.

"There will be a joint political statement that puts in context this new era in U.S.-Russia relations. There will be a statement on economic relations, [and] a statement on relationships [among] citizens. We expect a counterterrorism statement. There are a number of others that [are] being discussed," Rice said.

After the treaty-signing ceremony, Putin and Bush will hold a joint news conference, followed by lunch at the Kremlin with their wives.

In a sign of support for Russian democracy and free-speech advocates, Bush will meet on Friday with community groups and nongovernmental organizations.

On Saturday, Bush travels to Putin's hometown, where the presidents will take questions from students at St. Petersburg State University in a session to be broadcast on Russian television. Bush will also visit the city's Kazan Cathedral and a synagogue.

In Paris on Sunday, Bush will meet with newly re-elected French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the war on terrorism, NATO and "the importance of bringing Russia West," according to Rice.

On Monday morning, Bush will observe the U.S. holiday of Memorial Day in Normandy, where thousands of U.S. troops fell at the start of their bid to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.

Bush arrives in Rome on Monday night for talks and dinner with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi before Tuesday's signing of the NATO-Russia pact and a meeting with Pope John Paul II.