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Analysis: President Bush's Agenda At the G8 Summit

Morning Edition: June 26, 2002

G-8 Summit


President Bush is in Canada today meeting with other world leaders in the Group of 8 industrialized countries. The president considers the G8 Summit an opportunity to rally support for his Middle East peace plan, and for the US-led war on terrorism. But European leaders may be hoping President Bush will take the time to listen to their concerns and show that the United States is still committed to a cooperative approach in foreign policy. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN reporting:

President Bush is a man with a mission these days: to persuade the world that for the good of freedom, we must not allow the world's worst regimes to threaten us, a point he made last week.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: So I spend time making sure this coalition of freedom-loving countries is strong, and they're kind of looking at the United States, and if I blink, it's likely they'll go to sleep.

GJELTEN: This idea that it's his unique responsibility to keep the rest of the world awake and alert to danger has clearly been on the president's mind recently. On a visit to Germany last month, Bush said Europeans who downplay the terrorist threat are guilty of what he called `wishful thinking.' European leaders, for their part, concede that terrorism does not arouse quite the concern on their side of the Atlantic as it does in the United States. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has noted that Europeans are so accustomed to terrorism that there is a perception gap between them and Americans on how serious a problem it may be. Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to NATO, says his European counterparts do take the terrorist threat seriously, but may not support the US view of when and how to confront that threat.

Ambassador NICHOLAS BURNS: Where we disagree sometimes is on what do you do about unique cases? What do you do about Iraq? How do you handle the case of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism? There Europeans and Americans tend to not have similar views.

GJELTEN: This disagreement will hang over the G8 Summit in Canada because it raises the question of whether the United States is preparing to fight alone, if necessary, in Iraq, or on other potential battlegrounds. Nicholas Burns says his fellow NATO ambassadors press him for reassurance that the Bush administration is not pressing ahead unilaterally without regard for the concerns of allies, and he expects this issue will come up at the summit in Canada.

Amb. BURNS: The Europeans will want to know that the United States understands that it needs friends and allies in the world, that there are international solutions to problems, and the answer from the Bush administration is, `We agree with that.' The United States cannot hope to fight the terrorism battle alone, and we're not doing that.

GJELTEN: But whether that message is getting through is not clear. The host of this week's summit, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, has said he's worried President Bush may want to focus so much on terrorism this week that he diverts attention from the official agenda priority, how to help Africa. Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, warns that US leaders these days need to be careful not to appear to be acting in an imperial manner.

Mr. JOSEPH NYE (Dean, Kennedy School of Government): Even in Britain, there's a feeling that the United States is not listening, that we're essentially deciding without taking into account the interests of others, and that makes them less willing to cooperate with us.

GJELTEN: Nye notes in a new book that the United States now dominates the world politically and militarily like no state has since the Roman Empire. But he argues that the United States will never get what it wants without the assistance of allies. So when should the United States act alone, and when should it work with other governments? Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace follows US-European relations from a perch in Brussels.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Carnegie Endowment for the International Peace): We can't wait for others to take on some of the dangerous challenges that exist in the world today. We certainly can't wait for others to take the lead. However, when we take the lead, we should use all our power to try to bring as many of our friends and allies along with us as possible. I mean, that's what leadership means. Obviously, if you're going it alone, you're not leading.

GJELTEN: The countries represented at the G8 Summit--Canada, France, Britain, Russia, Germany, the United States, Italy and Japan--are the principal industrialized nations in the world today. Their leaders have many common interests, but what to do in the Middle East and Africa, how to resolve trade disputes and where and when to fight terrorism are issues that may defy consensus. President Bush will be challenged at the summit to show how the United States can lead and listen at the same time. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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