- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia | President Bush’s weeklong tour through Berlin, Rome, Paris and London appears every bit the glamorous old-style farewell tour with a leisurely schedule, jaunts to country castles and lavish dinners.

But it’s actually a high-stakes diplomatic mission, spurred by Mr. Bush’s fear that Iran is an increasingly urgent threat and that Europe might not take it seriously enough.

Mr. Bush, who arrived in Slovenia on Monday, has never been popular in Western Europe, especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

“A lot of people like America. They may not sometimes necessarily like the president, but they like America,” Mr. Bush told a reporter from Slovenia.

So it was puzzling that he decided to buzz through Western Europe’s Big Four nations this week, risking large protests and pointed questions, instead of choosing, as he usually does, to stop in formerly communist, newly democratic Central and Eastern European countries, where he always gets rock-star welcomes.

Iran helps explain the decision.

Mr. Bush started his trip in Slovenia, where he will take part in the annual U.S.-European Union summit. He also will visit Italy to see his old friend Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and for his third meeting with Pope Benedict XVI; Germany to chat with Chancellor Angela Merkel; France for two days to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Britain to see Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle; and Northern Ireland to hail the power-sharing agreement between Protestants and Catholics.

But mostly, Mr. Bush is visiting nations and leaders critical to a stepped-up U.S. effort to procure new and harsher measures aimed at preventing Iran from proceeding with a suspected plan to build a nuclear bomb.

Britain, Germany and France, along with the United States, Russia and China, are developing a package of fresh penalties and incentives aimed at reining in Tehran’s purported atomic ambitions. Italy wants to join the effort, too, and Bush said in a television interview he is open to it.

“He is going to try to stiffen European resolve on Iran,” said Stephen J. Flanagan, director of the international securities program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If anything else is going to happen … those are the countries that are going to deliver.”

It’s a high priority of Mr. Bush’s, and he is running against two quickly ticking clocks.

One is his own. His presidency is set to end in a mere seven months.

The other is Iran’s. In defiance of the first three rounds of mostly symbolic U.N. Security Council resolutions, Tehran has not only continued its enrichment of uranium, producing material that could be used to power an electricity plant or make a nuclear bomb, but also has expanded and improved it.

Assessments vary widely, but many analysts expect Tehran to have enough fissile material for a weapon within a few years.

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