Bush prepares for charm offensive in Europe

US President George Bush said he is confident he can mend fences with European leaders during a summit next week, though he disagrees with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the future role of Nato.

US President George Bush said he is confident he can mend fences with European leaders during a summit next week, though he disagrees with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the future role of Nato.

In a series of interviews yesterday, Bush said the goal of his five-day tour of the continent was to smooth relations damaged over opposition by many European Union countries to the US-led war in Iraq.

Bush flies to Brussels tomorrow for a three-night stay during which he will dine with French President Jacques Chirac. He meets with 25 EU leaders at a summit on Tuesday. Following his visit to Germany on Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia.

In an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bush said he disagrees with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over the future role of Nato.

At a security conference in Munich last weekend, Schroeder suggested a move away from Nato as a place to co-ordinate policy, saying the alliance “is no longer the primary venue where trans-Atlantic partners discuss and co-ordinate strategies”.

But Bush rejected that idea, telling the newspaper that Nato remains “vital”.

Speaking to France-3 television, Bush said he and his French counterpart should set aside their differences and focus on the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, where a former prime minister was assassinated in a spectacular car bomb attack this week.

Bush thanked France and other European leaders for pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

“I look forward to working with President Chirac,” Bush said. “There’s a lot of areas where we need to work together.”

Asked how he would react if Syria refuses to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, Bush said the “Syrians will get the message” if the international community speaks with one voice. He said France has significant influence in Syria.

The US and France have together exerted pressure on Syria and the pro-Syrian Lebanese government for the withdrawal of Syria’s 15,000 troops from Lebanon.

France and the US sponsored a resolution that the UN Security Council passed in September which effectively called on Syria to withdraw its troops and stop interfering in Lebanese politics.

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