Sat, May 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Bush goes on tour to wage democracy


US President George W. Bush faces tricky diplomatic terrain during a whirlwind European tour that takes him from a solemn remembrance at an American veterans cemetery in the Netherlands to a boisterous World War II victory celebration in Moscow's Red Square. It's the rare presidential foreign trip with a single theme: democracy's onward march, past and present.

Bush faces many issues as he hits four countries in five long days. Meeting in Riga, Latvia today with the leaders of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, he'll get questions about an American visa policy that makes it difficult for Central and Eastern Europeans to travel to the US.

Tomorrow, he visits the Netherlands, where he is deeply unpopular because of his decision to go to war in Iraq -- and later because of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and the indeterminate detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Georgia's president will want to know on Tuesday if Bush made good on his promise to intervene with Russian President Vladimir Putin on getting Russian troops and military bases out of Georgia and halting support to Georgian separatist leaders.

With Putin, there is a long list of things that bedevil the Washington-Moscow relationship, including democratic backsliding in Russia, Moscow's arms sales to Syria and Venezuela and crackdowns on businesses, Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, and Russian fears that the US seeks to supplant its regional influence.

But the two leaders are meeting for just an hour tomorrow night at Putin's dacha, followed by a social dinner with their wives, so aides downplayed expectations for progress on every front.

Everywhere Bush goes, Iraq is likely to come up. All but one -- Russia, a leading war opponent -- of the six countries whose leaders Bush is meeting have contributed troops to Iraq. His speech at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten will honor the sacrifice of the Dutch people and the 8,301 US soldiers buried there.

Then in Georgia, Bush delivers a speech in the capital's Freedom Square. In Moscow, where Bush has no plans for a public speech, the Moscow military parade will be the centerpiece of the president's trip.

Bush is to return to Washington on Tuesday.

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