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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 02:42 GMT 03:42 UK
European press review

President Bush's European tour continues to get top billing in most European papers.

In France, however, it has strong competition from a small skirmish in the battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate between President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, both with their sights firmly set on the 2002 presidential election.

Mr Bush goes to Europe

"The allies have toned down their criticism of the controversial anti-missile defence project whose virtues George W Bush extolled at the informal Nato summit in Brussels," says the Swiss Le Temps.

"There is no delirious enthusiasm, but there is no open hostility either," the paper adds.

Even President Jacques Chirac of France, the paper adds, "who fears that the American project might revive the arms race, seems to have poured some water into the wine of his criticism".

But the Spanish El Pais takes a different view. It says that President Bush's statement in Brussels that the European allies were coming round to his views, "is more a reflection of the new American president's charm offensive than an assertion based on fact.

"Europe's scepticism about the anti-missile umbrella is as strong as that of the United States over the intervention force with which the European Union wishes to equip itself," the paper believes.

Such differences may "take years to resolve", it says, but, "rising above them there is fact that the United States and Europe continue to need one another, though not in the same way as during the Cold War".

Therefore, the paper concludes, "the isolationist tendencies of a United States led by a conservative president... will not prevent a concerted response on all relevant matters when the moment comes".

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says that President Bush's reputation in Europe makes his mission to explain the need for his anti-missile shield a difficult task to undertake.

"The average [European] political consumer perceives Bush as a reincarnation of the nasty American," the paper says. They see him as "Bush the cowboy, the thug, the gunslinger".

"The biggest mistake of the new administration in dealing with European and world affairs," the paper adds, "was that they wanted to change everything right there and then, thinking they knew better."

Such an attitude smacks of "arrogance", and if it does not change further transatlantic rifts cannot be ruled out, the paper warns.

Its compatriot Die Welt compliments Mr Bush on his homework. "The president clearly took the utmost care to prepare for his first official visit to Europe," it remarks.

But it feels that Europe and the United States have so far failed to bring their interests closer together, and that Europe is clearly nervous about the missile defence project.

But "it is natural that the American president should first consider his own country and then and only then take note of Europe's interests," the paper concedes.

However it warns that transatlantic rifts must be healed, lest Europe and the United States end up "acting alone".

"Both sides must be willing to respect and harmonize each others' interests," the paper says, "or else the Atlantic will become even wider."

Acting indispensable

London's The Independent welcomes the agreement brokered late on Tuesday by CIA Director George Tenet between Israel and the Palestinians, and sees it as further proof that "while Europe aspires to influence in most of the great conflicts of our time, only America truly possesses it.

"Whether we like it or not, America, even under President George Bush, remains what Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, liked to call 'the indispensable nation'," the paper says.

And this is no bad thing, for "if there is one thing more dangerous than American unilateralism, it is an America that withdraws into itself, believing itself unconcerned" by the world's troubles, it adds.

"Prodded by General Powell, as well as by his otherwise unadmiring European allies, Mr Bush is undergoing a crash course in global realities," the paper notes. "He is learning that America is indeed the indispensable nation - and that if you are indispensable, your duty is to act."

Russia: Ready for the Bush-Putin summit

The Russian papers continue to look forward to President Vladimir Putin's meeting with his American opposite number in Slovenia on Saturday.

The weekly Itogi says the success of the summit will be measured not so much by the signing of agreements but by what kind of rapport the two men will strike.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta expects a detailed agenda, and believes that, in addition to defence matters, Mr Bush will raise the issues of freedom of speech, free elections, a free economy and a free press. But it also wonders how much ground they will be able to cover in the meeting's scheduled two hours, given the time that will be spent interpreting.

Izvestiya, which carries extracts from an interview given to the paper by President Bush before setting off for Europe, says that, judging by the interview, the Putin-Bush summit will be business-like, and nothing historical should be expected of it.

Europe: The Hungarians are coming

After what it describes as "the cold shower" of the Irish referendum rejecting the Treaty of Nice last week, the pro-government Budapest daily Magyar Nemzet rejoices at the successful completion on Tuesday of Hungary's entry negotiations with the European Union on what it says were three "very sensitive" chapters.

They concerned the free movement of workers, land purchases, and taxation, the paper explains.

"In terms of the number of chapters completed," it says, "Hungary, catching up with Cyprus, is now in the vanguard".

The paper also welcomes what it sees as a change in the Union's attitude to membership candidates. "At last the European Union appears to be treating applicants as equal partners, by taking their interests and fears into consideration," it notes

France: Cohabitation taking its toll

"It lasted only one minute," says the conservative Le Figaro, "but it will have pride of place in the tumultuous history of the cohabitation" between the right-of-centre president and the socialist prime minister.

This refers to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's barbed reply to an opposition question in parliament about why it took him 30 years to own up to having been a Trotskyist.

"I may have delayed explaining things to journalists, but that's not as bad as delaying explaining things to a judge," the paper quotes Mr Jospin as saying.

This was immediately interpreted as a reference to President Chirac's refusal, on the grounds of his presidential immunity, to respond to an investigating judge's summons last April when asked to testify in a case of unlawful party funding during his time as Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995.

"The prime minister's muscular riposte in parliament," says Le Nouvel Observateur, "confirms that the 2002 presidential election will be a fight without quarter between two men who over the past four years have learned to detest one another.

"The warning is clear," the paper adds. "If you ask me about my Trotskyist past, I'll ask you about the scandals at Paris City Hall when Chirac was mayor."

This is "the Cold War language of mutual assured deterrence", the paper adds.

Most of Liberation's front page is devoted to a photo of the two men looking at each other at their joint news conference at the European Union summit in Nice last December. The phrase 'If looks could kill' would neatly sum up their expressions, but the actual caption is a no less expressive, "The same to you!"

The paper fears a less than dignified 10 months between now and polling day, because it believes the two camps will focus on "character flaws" rather than policies.

And the flaws are there to be exploited, it concedes.

Prime Minister Jospin "failed to tell the truth about his past and refused to say exactly when he broke off with the Trotskyist group", the paper notes.

And President Chirac "has failed to explain himself" regarding the questions raised by investigating judges about his role in raising finance for his party and in other goings on at the Paris City Hall during his tenure as mayor.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

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