Looking to improve transatlantic ties strained by the war in Iraq, US President George W. Bush has promised to visit Europe "as soon as possible" after his inauguration in January.
The re-elected US President wants to turn more towards Europe
At a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday, Bush said close relations were necessary to combat global terrorism, poverty and disease and promote democracy around the world.
"In my second term, I will work to deepen our transatlantic ties with the nations of Europe," the American leader said. "I intend to visit Europe as soon as possible after my inauguration."
Bush, who was re-elected last week, will be inaugurated Jan. 20. He did not say how soon after that date he would travel to Europe, where ties to countries such as France and Germany are still strained after the US decision to invade Iraq last year.
Bush's last trip to Europe was in June to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Allied landing in Normandy, France, that heralded the end of World War II. Compared to previous US presidents, Bush has kept a distance from European allies, with the exception of Britain, and few of the leaders who opposed the Iraq war have openly embraced the US and its leader since the invasion.
Bush has also been reluctant to meet with European politicians unless they see eye-to-eye with him on the Iraq issue. Whereas Britain's Tony Blair has often visited the White House, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have been infrequent guests in Washington since Bush first came to office.
As for Spain, once a strong ally under its former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, Bush has yet to take a phone call from the country's new socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who withdrew his country's troops from the war-torn country shortly after being elected in March. On Tuesday, though, Aznar visited with the president in the White House and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia are expected to visit Bush's ranch in Texas on Nov. 24.
Better years ahead?
Since winning a new four-year term, Bush has said he wants to work on improving cooperation with his European allies. At the same time, though, he has made it clear that the US will still go into battle alone if necessary to protect US interests -- a unilateral approach many in Europe reject.
President Bush, right, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2004
He said Friday his European trip would serve to remind people on both sides of the Atlantic that "the world is better off, America is better off, Europe is better off, when we work together."
"There's a lot we can accomplish working together," Bush said referring to his administration's intention to cooperate with Europeans on tracking down members of the al Qaeda terrorist network, halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and NATO expansion.
Blair, who has pitted himself as a bridge between Washington and the Europeans (the UK supported the US in Iraq but has aligned itself with the EU on other issues such as the Middle East and Iran), said he supported "very strongly" Bush's hope to strengthen cooperation.
The British leader listed Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan as priority areas for the two sides to come together on. "I think there is a tremendous desire and willingness on the part of, certainly our partners in the European Union, to make sure that the alliance is strong," he said.