- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

BERLIN President Bush, who began a weeklong visit to Europe yesterday, claimed vindication for his ridiculed pronouncement nearly a year ago that he had sized up Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man he could trust.
"I said I looked into his eyes and was able to glimpse into his soul," Mr. Bush reminded European reporters on the eve of his first trip to Germany. "See, and I've been proven right. I do trust him."
Mr. Bush, who will travel to Moscow tonight for nearly three days of talks with his Russian counterpart, has been widely criticized for gushing about Mr. Putin after meeting him for the first time in Slovenia in June. But Mr. Bush now insists his first impression is correct.
"It is important that Russia be viewed as a friend, not as an enemy," Mr. Bush told the European print reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "I was able in Slovenia to realize that was possible when I visited with President Putin."
In the 11 months since that first meeting, even the president's detractors say he has developed a strong personal rapport with Mr. Putin. Having predicted an adversarial relationship, critics were astonished to see the two men joshing at Mr. Bush's Texas ranch in August.
When Mr. Bush said he would withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the United States and the Soviet Union signed in 1972, Democrats warned it would spark a new arms race. Instead, the two leaders tomorrow will sign the Treaty of Moscow, which slashes both nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
"I would call my relationship warm," Mr. Bush said of his Russian counterpart. "I enjoy his company. He has got a good sense of humor and I appreciate that."
The European journalists were unable to get Mr. Bush to confirm an American magazine report that he referred to the Russian leader as "Pootie-Poot."
"Oh, I call him Vladimir," Mr. Bush demurred. "And he calls me George."
He added: "I hope this trip will help assuage the doubts of some in Russia and in America who like the old way of resentment and bitterness and hatred. Vladimir Putin and I are putting that behind us, for the good of both peoples."
The president said he also enjoys close personal relationships with the leaders of the three other nations he is visiting during this trip newly re-elected French President Jacques Chirac, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Upon arriving in Berlin last night, Mr. Bush visited a cafe for apple strudel and ice cream with Mr. Schroeder as police fired tear gas and scuffled with pockets of protesters elsewhere in the city. The demonstrators numbered in the tens of thousands and ranged from globalization activists to youths who carried posters demanding a halt to "Bush's global war."
Before leaving Germany for Moscow tonight, Mr. Bush will give a major speech to the German parliament. He said he would use the speech to call for increased cooperation between Russia and NATO. In this and other speeches, the president also will urge continued vigilance in the war on terrorism and tackle larger issues of altruism.
"In discussions privately and in my public speeches, I will also remind us that we want the world to be not only more secure, but a better world," Mr. Bush said.
On a more pragmatic note, the president expressed concern about the widening gap between the military capabilities of the United States and Europe.
"We're transforming our military or trying to transform our military rapidly," Mr. Bush said. "And NATO must transform as well in order to meet the true threats." He added: "That's going to take awhile. I understand that."
Before leaving the White House yesterday, Mr. Bush railed against complacency in the war on terrorism.
"Even though we've had some initial successes, there's still danger for countries which embrace freedom, countries such as ours or Germany, France, Russia or Italy," he said. "As an alliance, we must continue to fight against global terror. We've got to be tough."


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