President Bush's trip to the annual Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations next week will be fraught with more political problems than usual.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative ally of Bush, wants the sessions, which her country is hosting, to focus on finding a compromise on the issue of global climate change. But Bush has been resistant to the kind of tough measures favored by many Europeans, so there is built-in tension over that issue.
Further, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Bush ally in the Iraq war, is leaving office in June. This will be his final G-8 meeting, with his influence on the wane. And while new French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also conservative on many issues--a plus for the American president--Bush and the Europeans will have a problem dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been leveling fierce criticism at the United States for its use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan and for muscle-flexing elsewhere.
Bush has scheduled a one-on-one meeting with Putin at Bush's father's oceanfront estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1.
But next week, the sour relationship between Washington and Moscow will be front and center. Simon Serfaty, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters yesterday that Putin will be "the elephant in the room" during the G-8 conference.
CSIS Europe program director Julianne Smith added: "Yesterday [Russia] launched an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. ... We'll have to wait and see if Putin uses this opportunity to drop another surprise into this meeting on another issue or perhaps repeat his objections to missile defense, whatever it may be. I think that will be the most interesting and important part of the summit."
By Kenneth T. Walsh