- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

When President Bush left last week on a five-day, five-nation European trip, he was untested and unproven.
He returned having established credibility and a new rapport with the continent, and, just as importantly, impressed a Russian president with his scope of history and depth of character.
The whirlwind trip, which covered 10,799 miles in 122 hours, brought the president face to face with 20 world leaders, most of whom heaped lavish praise on Mr. Bush. Russian President Vladimir Putin summed up perhaps the universal feeling of world leaders after Mr. Bushs first trip:
"Good first impression," the former KGB agent said after an 80-minute one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush in an alpine castle in Slovenia.
While protesters demonstrated at every stop along the way — Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia — presidents and prime ministers met a man not at all like the one portrayed in the mostly liberal European media, they said.
His most fervent endorsement came at the end of the trip from Mr. Putin, who previously had been outspoken in his opposition to Mr. Bushs plans for a national missile defense and NATO expansion.
"Reality was a lot bigger than expectations," Mr. Putin said. "This was not only a confidential discussion, but all the way to more than what you could expect from frankness, because President Bush, as a person who has studied history, proposed a very global, wide-scale approach and view to history."
Mr. Putin — who noted that the two presidents both named daughters after their mothers and mothers-in-law — said they have even more in common.
"The presidents a history major, and so am I. And we remember the old history. Its time to write new history, in a positive and constructive way," he said.
Mr. Bush clearly bonded quickly with Mr. Putin. Pictures from inside the private meeting show the two men laughing together. They also shared stories about their families and raising children.
The budding relationship was a striking contrast to the one endured by Mr. Putin and former President Bill Clinton, who aides said found the Russian off-putting and cold. U.S.-Russian relations cooled after Mr. Putin took over from former President Boris Yeltsin, a gregarious man and spirited vodka drinker who was more to Mr. Clintons liking.
The trip held much at stake for Mr. Bush, who has spent the first five months of his term focused on domestic issues such as an across-the-board tax cut and an overhaul of the education system. He made some early missteps, appearing to act unilaterally when he abandoned a restrictive global warming treaty and moved forcefully ahead with his missile defense shield.
The European press hammered Mr. Bush, saying he was a worldwide security threat and an enemy of the environment. But the president — who has traveled to 31 states to personally deliver his view of a future America — was confident he could do the same in Europe.
"Every new president is some kind of caricature in Europe until the first trip," said Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card. "Theres a caricature of the president until he comes here."
Comparing Mr. Bushs trip to the first made by President Reagan, Mr. Card said: "They dont know him yet. Theyll come to know him."
On the first leg of the trip, Mr. Bush visited an old family friend — Spains King Juan Carlos, who visited Texas just weeks after the new presidents father lost to Mr. Clinton in 1992, fishing and walking with the elder President Bush.
Mr. Bush the younger also made a favorable impression on Spains prime minister, whom the U.S. president hopes to count on to support his missile defense proposal when the matter comes up before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"Id like to express my satisfaction with regard to the atmosphere of cordiality and the friendship that has ruled in our meetings today, our working luncheon, and our talks," Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said of Mr. Bush, who last week brought his pledge to bring a new civility to Washington across the Atlantic Ocean.
On substantive issues, Mr. Aznar thanked Mr. Bush for stopping in his country to explain firsthand his desire to deploy a missile-defense system that will protect America and its allies.
"What Im surprised by is the fact that there are people who, from the start, disqualified this initiative. … What were dealing with here is an attempt to provide greater security for everyone," Mr. Aznar said.
"And from that point of view, that initiative, to share and discuss and dialogue and reach common ground with the president of the United States, is something that I greatly appreciate," he said.
While the U.S. presidents decision to make Spain the first stop of his debut European trip pleased the nations leaders, one newspaper ran a story — before Mr. Bush even arrived — headlined: "No one ever bothered more people in less time."
On the presidents next stop, Brussels, Mr. Bush ingratiated himself among the leaders of the other 18 nations that make up NATO.
"I think that all of the heads of state and government today very much welcome the fact that the United States, and the president in particular, was willing to share the thinking process on these key issues before any decision was taken," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
In Goteborg, Sweden, after a meeting with the European Unions 15 leaders, Mr. Bush took the opportunity to bat a softball question tossed by an Associated Press reporter right at them. Asked why he has gotten such bad press for abandoning the global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol and European leaders — many of whom have let the treaty sit for four years without action — have not, Mr. Bush said: "Thats a good question."
Then turning to EU Commission Chairman Romano Prodi, Mr. Bush said, "I would be interested in your answer." The roomful of reporters laughed as Mr. Prodi fumbled for an explanation.
The day after Mr. Bushs visit — in which he held firm to his conviction that the Kyoto Protocol is a "fatally flawed" treaty — the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet wrote a piece mirroring Mr. Cards assessment, summing up the presidents mission on his first trip and grading his success.
"Swedish media pumps out a picture of the American President Bush as being an uneducated, fumbling politician with the 'wrong views.
"But his European odyssey has turned out to be a success. … Everything seems to be going Bushs way," the newspaper said.
As if to confirm Mr. Bushs success, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said yesterday in a French newspaper that he believed there had been a change in Europes attitude toward the U.S. presidents plan for a missile-defense shield.
According to Agence France-Presse, Mr. Vedrine said he felt there was "no longer a vehement crusade against the project."

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