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Surprise: Bush and Europe May Find Common Ground

When George W. Bush left his Crawford (Tex.) ranch for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in January, European critics thought he took too many of his swaggering cowboy mannerisms with him. In no time at all, Bush dumped the Kyoto global-warming accord and vowed to build a National Missile Defense system (NMD) that allies fretted could spark a new arms race. To top it off, on June 5 the President signaled his intention to negotiate new limits on imports of steel from the European Union, Asia, and South America. The predictable reaction abroad: It was a return to Lone Ranger diplomacy, Reagan-style.

But as Bush prepares for his first official trip to Europe on June 11, signs are growing that behind the scenes the two camps are inching closer to some sort of consensus. Credit visits to the U.S. by European officials and a flurry of diplomatic consultations as Administration officials fanned out across Europe recently. To the Europeans' surprise, the talks were "not just cosmetic" but substantive, says Karl-Heinz Kamp, head of international planning at Berlin's Konrad Adenauer Institute.

LESS TROUBLE. Take missile defense, a likely topic for the NATO summit in Brussels on June 13. While allies are skeptical about cost and feasibility, they privately concede that the U.S. is correct in its analysis of new threats. "Europeans cannot deny that there is a real strategic rationale for NMD. There is a ballistic-missile threat from the Middle East and North Africa for Europe," says a European defense-industry official. Indeed, NATO has launched its own theater missile defense program--separate from the U.S. initiative--with five consortiums of defense contractors vying to do feasibility studies.

Similarly, on environmental issues Bush may also be heading for less trouble in Europe than thought just a few weeks ago. True, he may run into public protests, since the environment is a sensitive issue. But European officials seem more alarmed at Bush's peremptory approach to the Kyoto Protocol than to his core contention that it is unenforceable and lets developing countries off easy. Bush's outright rejection of the treaty "looked like the U.S. does what it likes, when it likes, and how it likes," complains William Hopkinson, an associate fellow at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs. Still, "Europeans know hardly anyone will be able to fulfill the Kyoto guidelines," concedes the Adenauer Institute's Kamp. The trick now is coming up with a new approach that will be both politically and economically acceptable to all parties. That will take time. To disarm his EU critics, Administration sources say Bush may concede global warming is a problem and offer general ideas for new ways to address it.

Bush will probably face his most critical test when he meets Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on June 16 in Slovenia. Both sides have a stake in improving relations, which started out with a U.S. spy scandal reminiscent of the cold war. NATO's plans for expansion as far as the Baltics is still a sore point. But Moscow and Washington both want deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals. And they may avoid a confrontation over missile defense if Bush says he'll consider talks to amend--rather than junk--the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. "I don't think there is any possibility of any deal" on NMD at the meeting, says Vyacheslav A. Nikonov, president of Polity Foundation, an independent Moscow think tank. The best outcome, he says, would be a decision to appoint Russian and American experts to discuss NMD and defer decisions while the two sides improve relations in other areas. Such a compromise would advance Bush's goal of keeping NMD alive--and allow the President to enjoy his European trip after all. The aftermath of the massacre of the Nepalese royal family on June 8 is worrying Nepal's ally and southern neighbor, India. Analysts fear a political vacuum in Nepal could be filled by Maoists, who form the main opposition party and enjoy 37% support. Nepal watchers say the Maoists may present themselves as the only stable factor in the troubled nation.

The Maoists want to depose the royal family and end links with India. Their ascension to power would leave Nepal open to closer ties with China and Pakistan, both rivals of India. An added danger for India could be the strong Maoist insurgencies in the northern Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. International affairs analyst Kanti Bajpai of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University says the Maoist groups could join forces and "create a very unstable northern Himalayan belt." French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin suffered little short-term political damage after admitting on June 5 that he covered up his Trotskyite past. But the affair still creates risks for his planned race next year against President Jacques Chirac. Jospin, a moderate Socialist who previously insisted he was never a Trotskyite, was forced to recant after journalists uncovered evidence he belonged to a Trotskyite cell as recently as 1981. While conservative leaders condemned him for lying, public reaction was muted. Still, the disclosure could undermine Jospin's ability to attack Chirac, who has dodged questions about corruption scandals dogging his Rally for the Republic party.

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