- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

As President Bush meets European Union leaders today for their now-annual summit, a new poll shows that Americans support the kind of tough rules on foreign visitors that have caused so much trans-Atlantic friction since September 11, 2001.

The poll, a United Press International/Zogby survey of nearly 6,000 adults, shows that two-thirds support the right of U.S. authorities to collect the personal data of foreign airline passengers traveling to America — an issue that U.S. and EU officials are struggling to reach accord on.

The Visa Waiver Program, under which nationals of 27 U.S. allies can visit without a visa, was seen as the second most-serious potential security vulnerability in the U.S. border and immigration regime, after the porous border with Mexico.

Mr. Bush will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the White House today. Economic issues — including the signing of a new trans-Atlantic trade framework — are expected to dominate, but security issues will be discussed, said U.S. and EU officials.

Speaking to the European Parliament last week, EU Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said the delegation would “call on President Bush to commit himself to ensuring that all EU citizens can travel to the United States without a visa,” according to a report of his remarks issued by the European Parliament’s press service.

Only 15 countries among the 27-member multinational bloc are included in the program now, although U.S. citizens can travel to any EU country without a visa. Newer members of the EU, including close U.S. allies among the former Soviet bloc such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, are rankled at not being included in the Visa Waiver Program.

During a tour of the Baltic states last year, Mr. Bush called for the program to be expanded, but the needed legislation is part of a broad homeland-security bill that the White House has threatened to veto because of unrelated provisions.

Mr. Spidla, a Czech and the commissioner for social affairs, added the delegation would also urge Mr. Bush to find “a solution to the transfer of passenger data” — which includes personal information such as credit card and telephone numbers collected by airlines in the so-called Passenger Name Record. The current interim arrangements expire in July.

But the new poll data suggests that if Mr. Bush wants to take a hard line with the European Union on these issues, he will not be punished for it by U.S. public opinion. When offered a list of five potential vulnerabilities — the Visa Waiver Program, both U.S. land borders, student exchange programs with Middle Eastern countries and accepting refugees from war-torn nations — nearly one-third chose the southern U.S. border.

The second most-feared vulnerability was the Visa Waiver Program, chosen by 18 percent. The program finished ahead even of Middle East student-exchange programs (cited by 13 percent) such as those that enabled several September 11 hijackers to be in the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of the respondents said they did not know or were not sure.

Zogby International conducted the online poll from April 13 to 16 using a sample of 5,932 adults, weighted to make the results representative of the country. The survey has a margin of error of 1.3 percentage points.

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