- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

President Bush departs tomorrow on a five-day, four-nation journey across Eastern Europe, where he will confer with allies about action against Iraq and welcome NATO's newest members.
But Mr. Bush will not hold a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was sharply critical of the president while campaigning for re-election in Germany earlier this year.
"I'm sure that the chancellor and the president will see each other at the summit, though they won't there's no formal meeting planned," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said.
After the NATO summit in Prague, Mr. Bush will travel to St. Petersburg for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. One of the topics of discussion will be Chechnya, a tricky political issue now that Mr. Bush is prosecuting his own war against Islamic terrorists.
"We still believe that the best way to resolve this situation is through a political solution that can take care of legitimate aspirations of the Chechen people," Miss Rice said.
She brushed aside suggestions from reporters that Mr. Bush is employing a double standard by calling for a peaceful resolution in Chechnya while advocating military force against terrorists elsewhere.
"There's not a double standard here," she said. "Terrorism is wrong wherever it is. Whether it is practiced in Chechnya or in the streets of Moscow or in New York or in Berlin, terrorism is wrong."
She added: "That said, political circumstances need to be dealt with."
On Saturday, Mr. Bush will meet with the presidents of the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
He will then travel to Bucharest for a meeting with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and a speech to that nation's people.
By the time Mr. Bush returns to Washington on Saturday with first lady Laura Bush, he will have completed his most extensive tour of Eastern Europe. He will also have laid out his post-terror vision of the continent in a major speech on Wednesday.
"The president will deliver remarks at the Prague Atlantic Student Summit, where he will discuss his vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace," Miss Rice said.
That vision is expected to include a NATO that will grow from 19 countries to 22 this week, after the alliance accepts the Baltic states as its newest members. Four other nations Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia are also expected to receive word that they are on the fast track to join the most powerful military alliance in history.
That will mark the end of the domination of Eastern Europe by Moscow. Mr. Putin is so unhappy with NATO's expanding to Russia's doorstep that he declined a Czech invitation to attend this week's summit.
In an effort to assuage the Russian leader, Mr. Bush will travel to Mr. Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg to assure him that America no longer harbors ill will toward Russia. The two men will also celebrate the 300th anniversary of the city, which was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great.
Mr. Bush has already persuaded Mr. Putin to drop his formal opposition to the NATO expansion, although there are still grumblings emanating from Moscow. It was the second time that Mr. Bush had used his strong personal relationship with Mr. Putin to soften Russia's displeasure over U.S. foreign policy.
In December, Mr. Bush persuaded Mr. Putin to mute his objections over America's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The two leaders replaced ABM with the Treaty of Moscow, which calls for both sides to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over the next decade.
The original treaty was never ratified by the Senate when it was run by Democrats, so Mr. Bush is expected to assure Mr. Putin at their meeting this week that the new treaty will be ratified now that the Senate is controlled by Republicans.
Russia also recently dropped its opposition to a U.S.-backed resolution against Iraq by the U.N. Security Council. In consideration of this move, Mr. Putin was expected to seek greater acquiescence from Washington over Russia's use of force against separatist Muslim rebels in Chechnya.
However, Miss Rice insisted that force is not necessary.
"President Putin himself has said from time to time that, of course, Moscow would like to find a political solution to the Chechen circumstances," she told reporters.
"And so it is a particular history, it's different than a lot of other histories, but it does need a political solution," she added. "That does not excuse the fact that terrorism cannot be used in any cause."


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