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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
On tour with President Bush - Day Two
The BBC's Nick Bryant is travelling with US President George W Bush on his European tour. He is sending us regular e-mails charting the president's progress around the continent.


Day Two - Dateline: Berlin
23 May

The initial greeting between George W Bush and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, on the pavement outside a fashionable coffee joint, neatly encapsulated the awkward relationship between America and its European allies.

Mr Schroeder offers an outstretched hand. Mr Bush takes it, his trademark grin - part smile, part smirk, head bobbing slowly up and down - spreading across his face.

George Bush and Gerhard Schroeder
Are you receiving? Bush and Schroeder touch base in Berlin
Mr Schroeder, suitably emboldened, reaches behind the president's neck, seizing it in a vice-like grip.

Oh, way too friendly, he thinks. Grab the arm, instead. As the chancellor takes aim at the president's upper arm, Mr Bush taps the chancellor on the left shoulder.

Nah. What the hell, thinks Mr Schroeder. Go for it. Give him the full body hug. The hawk-faced chancellor lunges forward, reaching the point of no return.

But hang on, he thinks. This is a toxic Texan I'm dealing with, the cowboy diplomat, the bete noir of my environmentalist coalition partners.

He freezes, pre-clinch. And then pulls back. He cannot decide whether to smother the President or not.

Disconnected

Unmolested, Mr Bush proceeds. The "Berlin bonhomie moment" has passed.

Washington claims that the transatlantic relationship is fundamentally strong, that America's out-stretched hand across the ocean is still tight in the grip of European leaders.

But clearly there is a disconnect. The relationship, once interlocking and inseparable is urgent need of repair.

The points of divergence are manifold - everything from trade to international criminal justice, the environment to the Middle East.

But it is the expansion of the war on terrorism which is causing the most problems between these two firm allies.

Anti-US demonstrations
Anti-US demonstrations were milder than feared
One of the most startling aspects of this short visit was the president's evident lack of surprise when Communist lawmakers interrupted his speech before the German Bundestag, unfurling a banner reading: "Mr Bush, Mr Schroeder, stop your wars."

Mr Bush paused, firmly raised his hand, waited a moment and then proceeded to speak. It was as if his reaction had been intricately choreographed by his White House handlers.

Truth is, they probably expected a more vocal demonstration, not least from Green lawmakers, the partners in Mr Schroeder's governing coalition.

As it was, the protest ended almost as soon as it had begun.

Ahead of this visit, the Bush administration has been alarmed at the wave of anti-Americanism across Europe - evident not only on the streets of Berlin but in the halls of German Government. Alarm has been mixed with dismay.

Global war

How can it be, ask White House officials, that the post-11 September wave of international sympathy has evaporated so quickly?

Mr Bush finds himself in what would have been an unimaginable position on 12 September. He is being forced to sell a global war on terror to an increasingly sceptical international audience.

There was almost pleading tone in the president's voice as he set out the "new threats" facing the civilised world, which justifies the expansion of the war:

George and Laura Bush
Mr Bush and wife Laura bow out of Berlin
"The authors of terror are seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

"Regimes that sponsor terror are developing these weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Wishful thinking might bring comfort, but not security.

"Call this a strategic challenge; call it, as I do, axis of evil; call it by any name you choose, but let us speak the truth."

Polite applause greeted his remarks. But it was clear that no great enthusiasm lay behind them.

Europe just does not seem to "get it", in the view of the White House. His short stay in Berlin - less than 20 hours long - will no doubt have reinforced its sense of isolation.


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See also:

22 May 02 | Americas
14 May 02 | In Depth
14 May 02 | In Depth
20 Apr 02 | Business
06 Mar 02 | Business
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