The once travel-shy President Bush lands in Europe today for his fourth journey to the Continent this year — one of his presidency’s few foreign trips during which Iraq and the war on terror will give way to the pleasantries of international diplomacy.
Mr. Bush already has trumped host British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s first agenda item for the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Gleneagles, Scotland — financial aid to Africa. On the eve of his trip, Mr. Bush pledged billions to fight malaria and encourage economic development and political reform on the troubled continent.
But the president is expected to ignore politely Mr. Blair’s pleas to join Europe in taking concrete steps to fight global warming, a diplomatic slight against the prime minister.
The Guardian newspaper in London reported last week that Mr. Blair was considering issuing a final communique that states “there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring and that human activity is contributing to this warming.”
The Bush administration has stated for years that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove global warming is occurring, let alone that humans are responsible for it.
“Climate change is felt dearly in Europe and is one issue where we’ve ruptured the relationship,” said Susan Rice, senior fellow of foreign-policy studies for the Brookings Institution. “If the president is seen as not having been as forward-leaning as the other leaders on this issue, it won’t do much to improve relations greatly.”
Mr. Bush also is expected to push the other leaders of the eight economic powers — which include Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, Japan and Italy, in addition to the United States — to expand their African agenda to include stopping genocide in Sudan.
“Britain has a history in Africa,” said Nile Gardiner, a fellow in Anglo-American relations for the Heritage Foundation. “A tougher line from the British government will have an impact on the African countries.”
The Bush administration long has pushed the United Nations and members of the G-8 to link foreign aid to the rooting out of corruption in Africa.
Mr. Bush told the Times of London last week that he “can’t in good faith” continue to send aid to Africa if he “can’t guarantee the money is being spent properly.”
“That’s just not good stewardship of our own money, nor is it effective in helping people,” he said.
Andrew Natsios, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told Fox News last week the $1.2 billion to fight malaria and the $400 million for education programs would go only to governments that could be trusted to spend it wisely. If that aid is needed in nations the White House considers corrupt, it will be funneled through nongovernmental organizations.
One of Mr. Bush’s biggest challenges, Mr. Gardiner said, will be to get the other economic powers — which often chastise the United States for not spending enough on foreign aid — to share his mind-set.
“The views of the American public on the dangers of foreign aid are now shared by the British public,” Mr. Gardiner said. “There is a shared concern that foreign aid simply gets squandered by dictatorial regimes.
“I expect a pretty tough message by the Americans and the British to African governments that they have to clean up their act,” he said.
Mr. Bush leaves for Denmark this morning to thank that country for its cooperation in the war on terror before heading to Scotland for the three-day summit that begins tomorrow.
Protests, which were lightly attended at last year’s G-8 summit in Sea Island, Ga., are expected to attract tens of thousands of people to Scotland. Organizers are hoping to build on the momentum of this past weekend’s Live 8 concerts that were designed to pressure the G-8 nations to dramatically increase their aid to Africa and forgive African nations’ debts.
There was little indication that the concerts, held on four continents, had any effect on the thinking of the leaders, who did not mention the spectacle at their presummit weekend press conferences.
Mr. Blair also has set aside time at the summit to launch an initiative on the Middle East peace process, saying Friday he saw an “atmosphere of hope” in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.