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Bush to court leaders' favor at G-8 summit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - When President Bush cloisters himself in a Scottish resort with the leaders of the world's other major economic powers this week, he'll have an important mission for his broader foreign policy agenda: damage control.

Bush will use the annual Group of Eight summit - a carefully scripted and highly secluded series of meetings among the major industrialized democracies - to burnish the U.S. image and pledge support for the top priorities of his allies. The administration hopes to build good will for Bush's goals, chief among them bringing stability to Iraq.

That means joining his host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an initiative that has ranked relatively low on Bush's wish-list - lifting Africa out of poverty - while avoiding open confrontation over his refusal to embrace Blair's broader goals of doubling aid to the continent and taking binding steps to curb global warming.

Striking the balance will be a steep challenge. Bush embarks today on his fourth trip to Europe since the start of his second term. He leaves behind a capital consumed with speculation about whom he will choose to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, announced Friday.

Protesters' complaints

He'll arrive at Gleneagles, a luxury hotel 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh, against a backdrop of international anti-poverty protests that mainly target his administration. Activists accuse Bush of spending too little on Africa and shirking his environmental obligations by refusing to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol against global warming.

The demonstrations, which gained a higher profile after star-studded Live 8 rock concerts in 10 countries drew hundreds of thousands on Saturday, also will fan the flames of bitter international opposition to the war in Iraq.

Bush's advisers are aware that the juxtaposition could cast the president in a less-than-favorable light and point up his differences with other countries. But they're determined instead to present him as a generous and collaborative player on the world stage.

The gathering affords Bush a chance to "demonstrate that the United States is not the stingy, arrogant, unilateral power that it is too often made out to be," said Patrick M. Cronin, a former foreign aid official in the Bush administration. A central goal will be to show that the war in Iraq - which has been a wedge separating him from most of the other world leaders converging on Gleneagles - isn't stopping him from focusing on other global problems.

The president began to paint that picture here last week as he announced $1.7 billion in new initiatives for Africa, and said he would double U.S. spending on Africa by 2010, declaring that this is "a nation that repays our blessings with generosity to others."

In response to questions from foreign journalists about his "cool" reception to Blair's aid goals, Bush defended his record in an interview last week.

"I happen to think that the formula that some people try to use is not an effective way to judge America's generosity, or a fair way," Bush said.

The trip also gives Bush the chance to counter the perception that the United States is on a unilateral mission in Iraq. During his visit to Denmark, Bush will thank Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for his contribution to the war in Iraq. Some 530 Danish troops are deployed there despite a drop in support for the mission among Danes, who polls show want their troops to return home.

The strategy can work only if leaders of the other countries also are willing to paper over their differences with Bush to present a unified front at the summit, and the history of meticulously planned G-8 meetings suggests they will, analysts said.

Bush's "main objective will be to prevent a bust-up - to avoid a sense that the United States is isolated," said Charles A. Kupchan, an international affairs specialist at Georgetown University and the Council on Foreign Relations. "He wants to demonstrate solidarity and indicate broad areas of agreement and play down those areas where" he parts ways with the other leaders.

Bush's agenda

Times have changed since last year's G-8 summit, when Bush played host at the posh Sea Island resort in Georgia. The president was working to focus international attention on Iraq and his goal of promoting democracy in the Arab world. This time around, he's not in charge of the agenda.

Bush will try to find time during the meetings and working lunches to turn the discussion to Iraq and how other nations can support the U.S. mission there, an aide said. But the topic - at the forefront of Bush's agenda - has been relegated to a side issue at the summit.

"The sense that there was going to be some sort of multilateral salvation for us in Iraq I think is really gone," said Vance Serchuk of the American Enterprise Institute. "At this point, I don't think there's really anyone who thinks the Europeans are going to be riding to our rescue in Iraq. It has faded from the G-8 agenda."

Instead, Bush and the foreign leaders he meets this week are likely to focus on the things they can agree on - even if the agreement is only on the surface.

Bush has joined the other G-8 nations in a plan to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by African nations. When Blair visited Washington last month, Bush pledged $674 million in food aid for Africa, and his announcements last week included $1.2 billion to fight malaria, $400 million to improve education and $55 million for programs to combat sexual abuse and violence against women.

But he has rejected Blair's broader goal of getting donor nations to spend 0.7 percent of their gross domestic products on aid to the continent. The United States spent 0.16 percent of its GDP on Africa last year, the second-lowest proportion of any donor nation, behind Japan.

'Symbolic' initiatives

The initiatives Bush announced ahead of this week's meeting "are symbolic," Cronin said via e-mail. "They show solidarity and remind the world about U.S. leadership in fighting the three big diseases of AIDS, [tuberculosis] and malaria."

Bush has done less to show common cause with Europe on climate change. He has rejected the idea of binding emissions targets - which he says would hurt U.S. competitiveness and hamstring developing countries - instead advocating development of cleaner and more efficient energy sources.

Still, people tracking the negotiations in advance of the summit said they believe that instead of challenging Bush's position, the other leaders at the gathering will sign on to a vague policy on climate change that would allow them all to state shared goals.

The meeting also will give Bush a chance to strategize with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany - known as the EU-3 - on their joint efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program, a major foreign policy challenge for Bush that became more pressing with the election last month of a hard-line president there.

"It's very important at this moment for the EU-3 to send a strong message to the new person there that the world is united in saying that you should not be given the capabilities of enriching uranium, which could then be converted into a nuclear weapon," Bush told foreign journalists last week.

Iran may not appear on any official agenda, said John C. Hulsman, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, but it's among a handful of difficult issues best discussed in the "clubhouse" setting that only meetings such as the G-8 provide. In closed-door sessions, he said, the leaders can detect "tones of voice or an arch of the eyebrow."

"Keeping Europe and the United States on the same page with carrots and sticks on Iran is important," Hulsman said.

Bush will have to work through mistrust between the United States and the Europeans about the process.

"The American nervousness is when push comes to shove, the Europeans won't be serious about the sticks, and the European nervousness is that the Americans are not serious enough about the carrots," Hulsman said. "It's a really important time for them to close the clubhouse doors and talk about that."

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