Bush leaves for tricky Europe trip
Friday, May 6, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President 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.
There will be a simple wreath-laying at a Latvian monument commemorating independence from communism and a speech before tens of thousands in the freshly democratic ex-Soviet republic of Georgia.

"It's a moment to understand that with each generation comes responsibilities to work to achieve peace," Bush said Thursday in a pre-trip interview with several foreign media outlets.

Bush faces many issues as he hits four countries in five long days.
Meeting in Riga, Latvia, on Saturday 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 United States.

On Sunday, 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.

"As to the bases, as I understand it, the government of Russia has made a statement that they'll be out of the bases. And this is obviously an issue that needs to be resolved between Georgia and Russia," Bush said in the interview.

With Putin, there is a long list of areas of both contention and cooperation that bedevil the Washington-Moscow relationship of late, 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 United States seeks to supplant its regional influence.

But the two leaders are meeting for just an hour Sunday 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, though the Dutch mission there ended in March.

But talk of democracy -- whether it's about the WWII victory over the Nazis and fascists, the end of communism in Eastern Europe or modern-day recent democratic advances -- is Bush's overriding priority.

In Latvia, for instance, Bush's focus is on acknowledging the difficult reality that the victory in May 1945 60 years ago over Nazi Germany only meant communist occupation for millions in Central and Eastern Europe.

The president said he also will talk about the mechanics of establishing truly democratic governments beyond just holding elections -- the need for rule of law and protection of minority rights.

His speech at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten will honor the sacrifice of the Dutch people and the 8,301 U.S. soldiers buried there.

It will also, Bush said, "remind people that there's more work to be done to make the world more free."
Then in Georgia, Bush delivers a speech in the capital's Freedom Square where citizens celebrated the Soviet Union's fall and, years later, the ouster of pro-Moscow leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

There the president aims to celebrate last year's globally inspiring nonviolent Rose Revolution that brought reformer Mikhail Saakashvili to power and to encourage Georgia and other young democracies making the difficult transition to more open governments.

"We live in a world where everybody expects it to happen overnight, and yet the Georgian example shows that with time, diligence by a government, that positive foundations can be laid," Bush said.

Even in Moscow, where Bush has no plans for a public speech, he will be meeting with local "civil society" leaders to show support for democratic reformers.

The reason for the intricate choreography of Bush's itinerary is the Moscow military parade -- the centerpiece of the president's trip. There, the heads of the former Allied forces -- Russia, America and Britain -- will stand alongside the leaders of the former Axis nations of Germany and Italy and dozens of others to celebrate the end of what is known in Moscow as the "Great Patriotic War."

But the ceremony also recalls darker chapters of history -- the Soviet's brutal wartime dictator Josef Stalin, the annexation of Baltic states still struggling to resist Kremlin influence. As a result, the White House designed a trip with a broader message.

Bush was to return to Washington on Tuesday.