Bush goes own way on G-8 summit

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

KRAKOW, Poland Seldom in the 28-year history of economic summits of the world's big industrial powers has there been so much personal chemistry among the major players, both for better and for worse. And so little likely to get done that President Bush is all but giving the event a pass.

For Bush, the Group of Eight summit this weekend in Evian, France, is not even the highlight of a seven-day trip that began in Poland, a staunch ''new Europe'' ally in the Iraq war, and ends with an ambitious peacemaking mission to the Middle East. Bush, in fact, will only spend one night Sunday in Evian. He is leaving a day early to get to the Middle East.

Bush's drop-by summitry comes amid increasing questions about the relevance of such annual gatherings, just as the role of institutions such as NATO and the United Nations also are coming under renewed scrutiny.

The world's fastest-growing economy and most populous nation, China, is not an economic-summit member, even though it is an observer this year. Nor is the world's largest democracy, India.

''Little of concrete value is expected to come out of this trip (to France), and probably no news is good news,'' said Lael Brainard, a former international economics adviser to President Clinton.

''Although I think the attention will be on body language and the atmospherics, the real test should be on substance.''

The economic summits, held every year since Rambouillet in France in 1975, have seldom been much about substance or economics for that matter.

The seven big wealthy democracies the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada joined by Russia follow a precooked script and wind up with joint statements presenting a united front on world crises.

This year, postwar Iraq, Mideast peace, terrorism, and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran fit the bill.

Bush is trying to further shape the agenda, challenging allies to spend more to fight terrorism, oppose weapons proliferation, alleviate hunger, poverty and AIDS. Along with peace and freedom, these are the ''great goals that wealthy nations can achieve,'' Bush said.

But with the economies of the United States, Japan and most of Europe languishing in a multiyear slump, there probably is not much he can expect other than more promises, analysts suggest.

Even Iraq has become less of an issue than it might have been.

Most of the acrimony has eased with the U.N. vote two weeks ago lifting economic sanctions on Iraq and giving the United States and Britain the lead role in reconstruction.

The United States and its allies are ''starting to talk about the future, and not just grind our teeth over the disappointments of the past,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Poland.

''You move on. Politics and diplomacy is about moving on.''

Moving on may be one thing. But Bush clearly harbors some personal resentments toward French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien for so vocally opposing the Iraq war. He does not plan more than a handshake with Schroeder and Chretien, and a brief courtesy call on summit host Chirac.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleez-za Rice, was candid about the poor state of relations.

Of Canada, she said, in an interview with foreign journalists, ''that disappointment will, of course, not go away easily.'' As for Schroeder, Rice said she ''can't answer the question of whether personal relations between the president and the chancellor will ever be the same.''

Bush's relations with world leaders have become intensely personal either you are with him or against him. This trip is as much about Bush's friends as it is about holding grudges against adversaries.

For instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose hometown of St. Petersburg, is the next stop on Bush's tour, qualifies as a friend despite his opposition to the Iraq war.

''My main focus has been to deal with Vladimir Putin leader to leader,'' Bush said in a pre-trip interview with Russia's RTR television. ''Because I firmly believe that if we can establish trust between each other, we can see to it that others in our administration begin to trust each other more.''

Polish President Bush Aleksander Kwas-niewski is rising quickly in the new-friend category, having sent 200 Polish troops to fight in Iraq and promising 2,000 peacekeepers. Bush had strong words of praise for Kwasniewski.

Also rising fast in Bush's esteem are the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the emir of Qatar, both of whom the president will see this week in stops in Egypt, Jordan and Qatar.

Of course, Iraq war partner Tony Blair remains Bush's best friend internationally. It was partly to fulfill a promise to the British prime minister that Bush got more involved in the Middle East peace process after criticizing predecessors for doing the same.

Since most Group of Eight allies also want to see Washington do more to settle the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Bush's decision to leave early and not stay around for more group photos and communiques did not seem to offend anyone.

It might be a more productive use of his time, those on both side of the Atlantic were suggesting. Even the French.

''I talked to my French counterpart personally about this. They fully understand why the president needs to take this opportunity to go to the Middle East,'' Rice said.

Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.

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