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Jeb Bush launches European tour, urges stronger EU-US ties

Jeb Bush has called for closer trade and security ties with Europe during a speech at a major economic conference in Berlin. Germany is his first stop on a European tour aimed at touting his foreign policy credentials.

Jeb Bush told politicians and business leaders in the German capital on Tuesday evening that if elected the next US president, he would step up efforts to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

"Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors," he said.

The Republican presidential hopeful went on to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ruthless pragmatist who "will push until someone pushes back," and who must know that there will be consequences to his actions. Bush warned, however, that it was not in the West's interests to drive Moscow away.

Berlin is the first stop on Bush's five-day European trip. He's also

expected to travel to Poland and Estonia

before returning to his state of Florida to launch his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Addressing an audience of around 2,000 people at Tuesday's event, Bush also criticized what he called a dramatic decline in US military spending under the Obama administration, and stressed the importance of NATO - the military alliance which includes the US and Germany, as well as Estonia and Poland.

"Who will say otherwise, as we watch the fate of Ukraine slowly unfold in tragedy?" he asked the conference, which was organized by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

"Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order."

Jeb Bush with Angela Merkel

Merkel meets presidential hopeful Jeb Bush in Berlin

'Common interests'

Bush also

called for a closer economic partnership

with the European Union, and urged for negotiations surrounding the controversial TTIP free-trade agreement with the US to be sped up and finalized.

"The EU and the United States have a common interest in the steady opening of markets across the world," he said.

"That's one reason why we need a serious plan to complete the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership."

Bush - whose father and brother were 41st and 43rd presidents of the United States - was expected to meet Merkel informally Tuesday evening, as well as Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

President Barack Obama also traveled to Berlin as a Democratic Party nominee three months before his election in 2008. During his visit he met with Merkel and addressed a massive crowd of 200,000 people in Tiergarten park.

nm/cmk (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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