- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

EVIAN, France — President Bush yesterday continued to set down a hard line on U.S. policy and win agreement on his demands that European leaders commit more fully to fighting global problems from terrorism to AIDS.

Despite predictions before the weeklong trip that the president would adopt a conciliatory tone with leaders who opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Mr. Bush used his first stop in Krakow, Poland, to challenge Europe to follow America’s lead in seeking solutions to the world’s most vexing issues, including weapons proliferation and famine.

“He laid out a very ambitious agenda for all of us, from which we can proceed in making the world safer and better,” a senior Bush administration official said yesterday aboard Air Force One en route to the annual meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Though no minds were changed on the Iraq war, Mr. Bush as well as European leaders who opposed the attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime seemed ready to move on to other issues.

French President Jacques Chirac, Europe’s most vocal critic of the war — whom Mr. Bush greeted yesterday with a handshake and a smile — praised the president’s leadership on AIDS. Mr. Bush last month pushed through Congress a $15 billion increase to combat AIDS in poor nations and urged other wealthy nations to follow suit.

“Bush took a decision in this area that I would not hesitate to call historic,” Mr. Chirac told reporters at an afternoon news conference summing up the first day’s discussions.

Mr. Chirac said his government would triple the French cash contribution for anti-AIDS efforts to $180 million, up from about $60 million currently. European Union officials said the 15 member nations would commit about $1.2 billion in new money to fight AIDS.

The French leader also praised Mr. Bush’s efforts to broker peace in the Middle East, calling this week’s meetings with Arab leaders and a trilateral summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas of “great importance.”

Still, Mr. Chirac bristled at the notion that France and other European countries would blindly follow the United States on every issue, reasserting his view of a “multipolar world” in which the United States is not the sole dominant power, a view, he said, “enjoys a very broad majority across the world.”

His spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said it would take “the coordinated efforts of everyone” to move the Middle East peace process forward.

She also said that Mr. Chirac does not regret his split with Mr. Bush over Iraq. “With respect to the past, each will maintain his position. We haven’t changed our minds, and the United States hasn’t either,” Miss Colonna said.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer made clear that the administration still resents French efforts to thwart U.S. policy on Iraq.

“We have an alliance. Allies treat each other as partners without regard to poles. It’s not a matter of a multipolar relationship. There’s no need for somebody to be between the United States and anybody else,” he told reporters.

While deep divisions remain, the leaders of the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada yesterday struck a harmonious pose, meeting in informal groups to discuss a variety of issues in this resort town on the banks of Lake Geneva.

“Everybody talked positively. Nobody talked about the past,” said Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, attending his 10th and final summit of the Group of Eight leaders. “Everybody was concentrating on creating a mood of solidarity.”

In an earlier press conference in St. Petersburg yesterday with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president — who also opposed the U.S.-led war — said his opposition did not create an unbridgeable rift.

“Given all the difficulty of the situation, we were trying to tread very carefully and to cherish and preserve both international aspect to our cooperation and personal aspect to our interaction and contacts. … Today’s meeting is a proof of the fact that we have succeeded in that,” he said.

While Mr. Bush and his top advisers are taking a wait-and-see approach to the future relationships with France and Germany, which also opposed the Iraq war, he appeared to put the past behind him with regard to his “good friend” Mr. Putin.

“We will show the world that friends can disagree, move beyond disagreement and work in a very constructive and important way to maintain the peace,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Putin agreed. “The fundamentals between the United States and Russia turned out to be stronger than the forces and events that tested it,” he said, with Mr. Bush nodding in agreement.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the strongest U.S. ally on the Iraq war, urged G-8 leaders to move forward.

“The most important thing, particularly after all the differences there have been over Iraq, is that the international community comes together and gives a very strong statement,” he said.

Mr. Bush’s diplomatic efforts on how to handle Iran and North Korea seemed to be paying off, even among nations that opposed a U.N. resolution authorizing military force in Iraq.

Mr. Bush pressed Mr. Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao to engage North Korea in dialogue and again rejected Pyongyang’s demand for a bilateral discussion with the United States.

“The North Koreans are digging in, saying that they want bilateral talks,” a senior administration official said after Mr. Bush met with Mr. Hu. “The Chinese are saying, ‘Look, that’s not going to happen. What can we do? Can you express your concerns in a multilateral format?’”

After meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Bush said Washington and Moscow were in agreement on the need for North Korea to “visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons program.”

At the summit yesterday, G-8 leaders pledged to speed up African debt relief, South African President Thabo Mbeki said.

“The G-8 heads of government recognized that there hasn’t been sufficient progress on this question,” Mr. Mbeki said after meeting with the leaders.

G-8 leaders chose this French resort near the Swiss border as the summit site because of its remote location, accessible by few roads. Most have been shut down during the meeting, with armed guards manning numerous checkpoints.

Beyond the security perimeter, an estimated 50,000 anticapitalist demonstrators rampaged through towns in France and Switzerland, smashing shops and blocking roads.

Mr. Bush leaves the summit today to fly to the Middle East to promote the U.S. blueprint for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The president will meet tomorrow in Egypt with Mr. Abbas and leaders from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain.

Mr. Bush travels Wednesday to Jordan for a summit with Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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