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Bush Embarks On Final Europe Trip

U.S. President George W. Bush is making his last major visit to a continent where many dismiss him as yesterday's man.

As his presidency winds down, Bush - reviled by many Europeans and simply ignored by others - can do little this week but smooth the way for his successor.

His tour kicks off Tuesday with a one-day summit of U.S. and European leaders in Slovenia, where officials have alluded to long-standing misgivings in Europe over Bush's foreign policy in Iraq and its approach to climate change and other issues.

"As in all relationships, the EU and U.S. sometimes have different views," Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told reporters before Bush's scheduled arrival Monday evening.

Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to meet with Slovenian President Danilo Turk and Prime Minister Janez Jansa, and later with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana at a castle that the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito once used as a retreat.

Later Tuesday, Bush was to head to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He also planned stops in Italy, the Vatican, France, England and Northern Ireland.

Like many Americans, Europeans have Bush fatigue. His decision to invade Iraq stirred anti-American sentiment in many countries, although that has receded as Europeans watch the U.S. presidential campaign and weigh prospects for change under a new president.

"A lot of people like America. They may not sometimes necessarily like the president but they like America," Bush said in an interview with POP TV of Slovenia. "They like what America stands for."

Yet many Slovenes, whose country now holds the rotating EU presidency, expressed a growing disinterest in Bush, coupled with a keen interest in who will replace him at the White House.

"I believe that it's more important now for all of us to see if his successor would do any change," said Sonja Virant, a 42-year-old clothes designer in the capital, Ljubljana.

Bush, she said, "can't do anything bad anymore - or I hope so."

"My opinion of him? Negative," said Tina Sremec, 19, a student.

Rupel said the EU and U.S. officials would discuss a wide range of issues including the Middle East peace process, global warming and security, efforts to forge a new global trade agreement, Iran's nuclear program, the burgeoning food price crisis and tensions with Serbia over Kosovo's independence.

The two sides also were to discuss ways to improve airline safety and broaden a program that lets people travel in the U.S. without visas for up to 90 days. The visa waivers currently are available for only 15 of the EU's 27 member nations.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley made clear the trip was not expected to produce any breakthroughs, saying last week: "I don't think you're going to see dramatic announcements on this trip."

Underscoring the low expectations, officials said the one issue they hoped could be resolved was a long-running dispute over an EU ban on imports of U.S. poultry.

Although Bush will meet with key European leaders again at next month's summit in Japan of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, this week's trip was likely to be his last major tour across the continent before the U.S. presidential elections in November.

Climate change has been a major point of disagreement between the U.S. and Europe.

The EU has committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 30 percent if other developed countries accept similar commitments. But Washington has opposed binding commitments, arguing that they could hurt the struggling U.S. economy.

When Bush first visited this ex-Yugoslav republic in 2001 for a summit with then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, he was met with large and boisterous demonstrations.

This time, reflecting deep-seated apathy for a president increasingly viewed as yesterday's man, only a few small, loosely organized protests were planned. And though security was tight, unlike his 2001 stop, there were no American flags to welcome Bush.

"I feel nothing for him," said Andrej Sit, a 29-year-old CD vendor. "I don't think about him at all."


Associated Press Writers Snjezana Vukic in Slovenia and Terence Hunt in Washington contributed to this report.