- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

To many in Europe, President Bush is still a pariah, and Barack Obama is a phenom.

But as Mr. Bush heads to the continent Monday for a weeklong goodbye tour, the little known fact is that his administration has done much to repair the trans-Atlantic relationship in his second term. As for Mr. Obama, recent events indicate the Democrat from Illinois, if elected president, might not be the drastic contrast with Mr. Bush that many in Europe are wishing for.

“Once President Bush is out of the White House, there will be huge expectations in Europe that a new, rosy dawn of peace and love is appearing over the Atlantic,” said Reginald Dale, a Europe scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“They’re liable to be somewhat disappointed, because America is still going to look after its own interests, and then the fundamental interests may not have changed that much,” he said.

Mr. Bush’s trip to Slovenia on Tuesday for the European Union summit will serve as a prelude to his jaunt through Berlin, Rome, Paris and London.

But Mr. Bush’s presence at the EU summit will result in a push and pull on Iran and climate change. European leaders will press Mr. Bush to agree to a global emissions-reduction target, and he will urge more action to stop Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon.

“I will continue to work on this trip to talk about the dangers of a nuclear Iran,” Mr. Bush said Friday.

Despite the high-stakes negotiations on climate change and Iran, many European leaders will be looking past Mr. Bush to his successor.

David Pumphrey, a former senior official at the Department of Energy in the Bush administration, said that Europe sees an “opportunity to engage successfully” on climate change under the next administration.

Both Mr. Obama and his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have said they will endorse a “cap-and-trade” system here in the United States, which the Bush administration has resisted.

But on the question that matters most to Europe - a global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol - the next U.S. president may not depart from Mr. Bush’s position, which has been that China and India must be part of any deal.

Mr. McCain has clearly stated that China and India must bring their emerging economies into any global agreement.

Mr. Obama has been more vague. An Obama spokesman said that the senator would “push aggressively” for China and India to participate, while also setting up a global energy forum made up of the world’s largest developed and developing emitters.

The White House has altered its rhetoric in the last year, signaling willingness to join a global regime if China and India do, rather than simply opposing any participation. But the Bush administration is confident that its position on China and India will be preserved, calling any view to the contrary a “political miscalculation.”

“There has occasionally been voiced the misimpression that a future administration will take a significantly different attitude towards climate than this administration,” said Dan Price, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

“We have tried to explain that it is highly unlikely that any future administration would be prepared to sign a new climate treaty that did not include binding commitments from the major emerging economies to address their own emissions,” he said during an interview with a small group of reporters.

John Bruton, the EU ambassador to the U.S., said that expecting China and India to sign on to a post-Kyoto agreement “before you’ve done anything yourself is ludicrous.”

Over lunch recently at the EU ambassadorial residence with a small group of journalists, Mr. Bruton, a former Irish prime minister, said that Mr. Bush can make some progress on climate change during his final months in office.

“Because he was so difficult to move in the first few years, he can actually do more in the last few months, in terms of an effect, that will have a persuasive effect with the Republicans in the House and the Senate,” Mr. Bruton said.

But even leading Democrats appear to be closer to Mr. Bush than to Europe on the issue.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said in December at a global climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, that if a global deal does not include China and India “we’re not going to be able to pass it.”

As for Iran, Mr. Obama sounded a far tougher note than ever before last week, which may have surprised some in Europe.

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Mr. Obama said he would do “everything in [his] power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” and that he will “always keep the threat of military action on the table.”

“The Europeans may not be that relieved about what he says following Bush,” said Stephen Flanagan, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

For the current president, his image in Europe has improved by leaps and bounds from the dark days surrounding the invasion of Iraq, which was strongly opposed throughout the continent.

The French and German leaders who opposed Mr. Bush on Iraq have been replaced by more pro-American conservatives - Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, respectively. Silvio Berlusconi, an old Bush friend, is once again Italy’s prime minister. And in Britain, the Conservative Party is resurgent while Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has distanced himself from Mr. Bush, is fighting for his political life.

But Mr. Bush has taken positive steps as well. The first trip of his second term was to the 2005 EU summit, which Europeans say sent a strong signal of respect, following a first term in which the president showed little recognition of the body.

The Bush administration also has enhanced cooperation with much of Europe on trade and regulatory matters, which experts say is making a big difference.

“His willingness to go to Paris, London, Berlin and Rome during the same trip shows how far we have come over the past few years in terms of the trans-Atlantic partnership,” said Simon Serfaty, a global security specialist at CSIS.

“The outgoing president ought to be given credit for the fact that, to some extent, he has gotten both sides of the Atlantic back from … where they were just a short while ago.”

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