US President George W. Bush flew in to the Slovene capital Ljubljana on Monday, for the start of his farewell tour. Visiting Germany, Italy, the Vatican, France and the UK, he hopes to consolidate relations and secure help for Afghanistan.
US President George W. Bush, weakened by the Iraq war and a sour US economy, launched a farewell trip to Europe Monday vowing to "solidify" relations and pleading for more help with Afghanistan.
Bush's first destination was his last US-European Union summit near Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, followed by visits to Germany, Italy, the Vatican, France, Britain -- his final stop Belfast, Northern Ireland.
"I'm looking forward to meeting with our friends and allies. We've got strong relations in Europe, and this trip will help solidify those relations. And we got a lot to talk about," he said in brief departure remarks.
With roughly seven months before his successor gets the keys to the White House, Bush was to push for more help with Afghanistan, more pressure on Iran while looking to paper over climate change rifts and soothe trade disputes.
"The countries I'm going to have committed troops to Afghanistan, and, of course, want to thank them, and remind them there's a lot of work to be done," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do in Afghanistan."
To underline his point, US First Lady Laura Bush paid a surprise one-day visit to the war-battered country Sunday as 19 people, including an Afghan journalist for the BBC, were killed in fresh violence.
Bush, making her third such trip, said she had wanted to see progress in Afghanistan ahead of a June 12 Paris conference, where Kabul was to present a 50.1-billion-dollar (31.9-billion-euro), five-year development plan.
"She saw progress, but she also saw there needs to be a lot of work to be done," the US president said in a four-minute statement as he left the White House.
Bush also aimed to ensure that the European Union fully implements international sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear programme, and push EU members to further tighten the financial screw on Tehran, aides said.
He was also seek to resolve trade disputes -- including a feud over restrictions on US poultry exports to Europe -- and dig in on his much-criticised approach to combatting climate change.
Bush said he would deliver the message that "We've got to keep our economies flexible; both the US economy and European economies need to be flexible in order to deal with today's challenges."
It was not clear what sort of welcome the US leader would get from European counterparts already eyeing his would-be successors.
"I don't think you're going to see dramatic announcements," US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters last week.
The trip comes amid concerns that US policy towards Iran over its nuclear drive is hardening despite the White House's public insistence that it wants to resolve the dispute diplomatically.
Britain, France and Germany -- backed by China and the United States -- are preparing a fresh offer of economic and diplomatic incentives for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, and Tehran is preparing a counter-offer, said Hadley.
"So we'll see where we are in terms of negotiations, whether this offers some new promise or not," he said.
Bush, who has explicitly refused to rule out the use of force against Iran, met this week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and media reports said the Israeli leader pushed Washington to plan for a possible strike.
Bush also aimed to sound out his hosts on the faltering Middle East peace process, difficult Western relations with Russia, buttressing Georgia in a feud with Moscow, promoting democracy in Lebanon, and engaging Serbia.
Date created : 2008-06-09