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In such a world, where disputes are between friends, old or new, Bush would have had to do something dramatically awful for his trip to be marked a failure. He didn't. Indeed, so low were the expectations of him among parts of the European media that merely by showing up and speaking English--never mind the basic Spanish that he used when visiting Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Madrid--he would have been judged a resounding success. He sailed over that low bar. From the U.S. standpoint, the week's only truly sour note had nothing to do with the President's performance. It came, rather, with a surprise announcement by Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric Co. The conditions that the E.U.'s competition authorities wished to place on GE's merger with Honeywell International, Welch said, were deal breakers. Bush may have sympathized, but he did not make the GE deal part of his official business.
By and large, those meetings went as well as could be expected. Bush's advisers thought discussions with NATO allies in Brussels were a success. NATO's drab offices are the closest thing to home turf that an American President ever finds in Europe--a place where the history, might and technological prowess of the U.S. give it an unrivaled position of leadership. Bush made his case for missile defense with vigor and without notes, and at the press conference following the meeting, seemed pumped and confident. To an extent, that makes sense. He has won converts in Europe; the governments of Spain and Italy--as well as new NATO members Poland and Hungary--are all inclined to support Bush's belief that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is a tired relic of the cold war that deserves no more than a decent burial.
The discussions in Sweden, at the semiannual summit between the E.U. and the U.S., were bound to be trickier--and were. On their own territory--Bush was the first sitting U.S. President ever to visit Sweden--the Europeans set the agenda, which consisted mainly of beating up on Bush for his decision to junk the Kyoto accord. Climate change dominated both the formal meeting and the dinner that evening in Goteborg's town hall. Bush, said an Administration official, found the dinner a "long two hours."
He had better get used to it; with European leaders under electoral pressure to show green hearts, global warming will feature at summits for years to come. And so, for all the grips and grins in Ljubljana, will missile defense. Bush has asked Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to work with their Russian counterparts on a "new security framework." Those talks won't be easy; Washington may have changed the dismissive, almost contemptuous tone in which it discussed Moscow earlier in the year, but Putin has deeply held positions on missile defense and NATO enlargement--and powerful constituencies who will see that he sticks to them.