Bush the Internationalist

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In quick succession, the president this week has addressed issues concerning AIDS, Darfur, Iran, the World Bank and climate change. But will this flurry of international activity give the administration's image a boost abroad? Liane Hansen speaks with Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian and Philippe Chatenay of the French publication Marianne.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

George W. Bush's critics argue he's a go-it-alone president. They call him a unilateralist. They say he does not play well with others. They might not have recognized the George Bush they heard this past week. It began with America's first formal high-level talks with the government of Iran in nearly 30 years; then the president announced tougher sanctions against Sudan; he urged Congress to double the funding for the fight against AIDS; he nominated the widely admired Robert Zoellick to be president of the World Bank; and finally the president did something his critics have been urging him to do for six years -he called for a global target for reducing greenhouse gases.

Some of these positions represent a change in policy, others a continuation -all seemed intended to appease President Bush's overseas critics.

Suzanne Goldenberg is the Washington correspondent for The Guardian, a London-based newspaper, and she joins us. Welcome to the program, Suzanne.

Ms. SUZANNE GOLDENBERG (Washington Correspondent, The Guardian): Thank you.

HANSEN: And Philippe Chatenay is a reporter with the French newsweekly Marianne. He's in Paris. Welcome to you, Philippe.

Mr. PHILIPPE CHATENAY (Reporter, Marianne): Thank you.

HANSEN: I'd like to start with you, Philippe. This flurry of international initiatives by the American president, how is it gone over with the French?

Mr. CHATENAY: Well, not very far. I think that most French people, including our political leaders, has basically made up their mind about George W. Bush. And I don't think that they can believe the tiger can change his stripes. So yes, Mister Bush obviously seems to have become more of a multilateralist. But I don't think it's going to convince anybody here in France that Iraq is a good idea, or that the American position on global warming is a good one.

HANSEN: The French, I imagine, are obsess with their own new government of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was a critic of U.S. foreign policy. Is Sarkozy at all interested in moving France closer to the United States, and might President Bush's initiatives help in anyway?

Mr. CHATENAY: Perhaps. Although, there's something one must keep in mind, which is that, there's been a change of the political guard in Europe over the past few months - Garhard Schroder is now replaced by Angela Merkel; Aznar in Spain has been replaced by Zapatero; Berlusconi in Italy has been replaced by Romano Prodi; Tony Blair will soon be replace by Gordon Brown. So there's a change of the guard, and I think that many of these European leaders are basically waiting for the change of the guard at the White House.

HANSEN: Suzanne Goldenberg, I want to bring you into the conversation. Why do you think President Bush has taken these steps at this moment?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, there's two views. The most cynical view would be that he is turned on global warming, is that he's trying to prevent a new negotiation of Kyoto. He's trying to block a global accord on that - that would be the view of environmental activists across the globe.

On the other issues, I think he wanted to put his marker down at the G8; on the issue of HIV-AIDS, in particular, which has been one initiative this week that's been most warmly received in Britain and in other countries.

HANSEN: How much substance do you think the European governments find in the stance that the president is taking - the one he's projected this past week?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Again, I would have to share what Philippe is saying, and that they're viewing it with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially this latest initiative on global warming which has been denounced in the editorial pages at least with most British newspapers as a spoiler. That it's intended to block any kind of meaningful outcome of - from coming out of the G8 summit, when it comes down to discuss climate change.

HANSEN: Let me ask you, Philippe Chatenay, another issue nominating - choosing Robert Zoellick to be president of the World Bank to succeed Paul Wolfowitz. Is there a reaction at all in Paris to this?

Mr. CHATENAY: I think not. I think that the - on a more symbolic level perhaps. There was a view in Paris that the long-drawn twisting in the wind of Mister Wolfowitz was seen as another example of the fact that when the people in the Bush White House realize that they're wrong, they can not manage to admit it. They know it's over, but there's no way they will surrender gracefully.

HANSEN: What about Sudan and the edict about the bloodshed in Darfur, President Bush announced tight economic sanctions?

Mr. CHATENAY: Well, there perhaps there might be - how can I put it - a test case for a new closeness in Franco-American relations, because as you know Mister Sarkozy's new foreign minister is Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders, a celebrated humanitarian aid expert. And so he indeed has been making speeches about the need to do something about Darfur. So yes I think that Mister Kouchner is open-minded enough to take help wherever he can find it in attempting to solve the problem in Darfur.

HANSEN: What do you think, Suzanne, the Europeans hope to hear from President Bush last week that they perhaps didn't hear?

Ms. GOLDENBERG: In terms of rhetoric, you know, the Bush administration has moved on quite a lot. It now acknowledges the importance of global warming. But in terms of action, there really hasn't been much progress at all. I mean it has to be said that, you know, all these initiatives from Mister Bush are coming after six years of, you know, relative obduracy on many issues, on many international initiatives. So it's going to take quite a lot for the rest of the world and Europe anyway to warm to him on these.

HANSEN: Philippe Chatenay, let me ask you about what Europeans were hoping to hear from President Bush last week that they did not hear. What do you think?

Mr. CHATENAY: It figures of course that the French don't expect much from Mister Bush anymore. I think that there's a conviction here that Mister Bush is only attentive to American voices, American interests, American lobbying. There is no possible hope that Mister Bush will change this late in his presidency, and so basically we're holding our breath and waiting for the next occupant of the White House.

HANSEN: Philippe Chatenay reports for the French weekly Marianne. Thank you very much.

Mr. CHATENAY: A pleasure.

HANSEN: Suzanne Goldenberg is the Washington correspondent for The Guardian in London. Thank you very much.

Ms. GOLDENBERG: Thank you for having me.

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