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Bush's Europe tour diary: Day One

US President George W Bush is on a tour of Europe in the Czech Republic, amid growing tensions with Russia. BBC state department correspondent Jonathan Beale is travelling with the president and recording his experiences in a daily diary.

DAY ONE: TUESDAY 5 JUNE, 1545 GMT

On the day that President Bush's major speech in Prague on democracy and freedom - a Monty Python moment. Following a meeting with the president and prime minister of the Czech Republic, the announcer told the assembled reporters that they were about to take part in a press conference... but with no questions! It's unclear as to whose decision that was, but Mr Bush gave a wry smile to the assembled White House press corps.

President George W Bush speaks with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus as they inspect the guard of honour at Prague Castle.
Bush is having trouble pronouncing names of Soviet dissidents

The "press conference" was dominated by the US president's appeal to Russia to tone down the rhetoric over its missile defence shield.

The Cold War was over - Russia was not America's enemy.

Yet, hours later in his keynote democracy speech, President Bush was taking a swipe at Moscow for "derailing" democratic reforms once promised.

The stage is set for a strained G8 summit.

President Bush's speech was essentially a rehash of his long-trailed "freedom agenda".

But the famously tongue-tied Texan had new problems in pronouncing the names of dissidents from all four corners of the Earth.

He checked and occasionally winked at the audience after having a good stab at the names of Soviet dissidents. Hopefully he'll have better luck when he meets the leaders of the G8!

The Prague leg of this visit is now over - President Bush was appropriately seen off at the airport by a Czech guard of honour with a march straight out of the Soviet era.

DAY ONE: TUESDAY 5 JUNE, 0200 GMT

All this talk of a new Cold War has clearly brought a touch of nostalgia to President Bush's foreign policy advisers.

US President Bush and his wife Laura arrive in the Czech Republic
On-board briefings for this trip set the tone for a "testy" G8 summit
Perhaps little wonder, since most are experts of the Soviet era. It also reminds them of a time when US influence was supreme and they were on the winning side. Today, though, there is no Iron Curtain or Berlin Wall to "tear down".

The Cold War rhetoric from Moscow may be a welcome diversion from Iraq - but there is little appetite to return to the past.

Hence President Bush is likely to choose his words with care when he admonishes the Kremlin for backsliding on democratic reforms.

Washington and Moscow may have sharp differences over democracy, America's missile defence shield and Kosovo's independence - but the United States still needs Russia's support on a host of issues. Not least, to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But there's no doubt the relationship has changed for the worse. President Bush once famously stated that he'd looked into the soul of President Putin and saw a man he could trust.

Now there's more to remind Mr Bush that Russia's leader was in fact a product of the KGB.

On-board briefings

I only caught a glimpse of the president getting on and off Air Force One. Travelling on his plane does not get you unfettered access.

The "pool" media - about eight of us - are stowed away near the tail end - the president himself hidden from view.

However, a number of White House officials, including the president's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, did come back to brief us on the eight-hour flight from Andrews Air Force base to Prague.

It is all very different from travelling with Condoleezza Rice. She normally comes to the back of her plane at least once on a long flight to take questions or to have an off the record chat - sometimes even dressed in a tracksuit rather than the usual designer clothes she appears wearing on screen.

It is a mixed blessing, because whenever a senior official comes to talk to reporters, it means no time to watch the in-flight movies.

One of my fellow state department correspondents curses the days he used to travel with the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.

Apparently he would not leave the reporters alone. There was a sigh of relief when he returned to his cabin with reporters urging security staff to remember to close the door.

Anyway, the on-board briefings for this trip have set the tone for a "testy" G8 summit with the US, and in particular Russia, reheating the rhetoric of the Cold War.



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