KRAKOW, Poland (AP) — President Bush brought personal thanks Friday to Poland for standing up as a wartime ally in Iraq, making no effort to hide a grudge toward France and Germany for opposing the U.S.-led campaign against Saddam Hussein.
This city in southern Poland was the first stop on a weeklong tour also taking Bush to Russia for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg and to Evian, France, for the annual summit of industrialized nations. Bush will cut short his stay in France to make his first visit to the Middle East for meetings promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which envisions two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
The trip's opening days underscore deep tensions over the Iraq war, in which French President Jacques Chirac undercut U.S. efforts to win a war resolution from the U.N. General Assembly and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder campaigned for re-election on an anti-war platform. Bush has not even talked with Schroeder, the leader of western Europe's largest nation, since November.
Bush and his wife Laura smiled and waved as they stepped off their plane, welcomed by diplomats and an honor guard of Polish troops wearing white feather hats and dark green capes.
Bush defended Poland against criticism of its war support. "I think it's unfortunate that some of the countries in Europe will try to bully Poland for standing up for what you think — what they think is right." He said Poland could be a friend of the United States and also a member of the European Union.
"I'm also going to remind the countries of Europe that we must work together," Bush said in an interview with Polish television. "We don't need divides between us. We need to work together to achieve big objectives, which is to fight terror, to fight global poverty, to fight AIDS and to promote freedom."
Bush's visit singles out Poland as a key partner and symbolizes the eastward shift toward what the United States sees as a "new Europe." Today, the president will tour the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau where more than 1 million people perished. He said there is "no better place to remind people that there has been evil in the world than at Auschwitz."
He also will deliver a speech at Wawel castle on a hillside overlooking the Vistula River to outline the future of the trans-Atlantic partnership and the challenges facing the Western alliance.
"It's becoming more and more clear that Poland is a player," said Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador. "It's an old country but a new player. They like us and they think like us." Poland is the only European nation that has been honored with a White House state dinner in Bush's administration.
Poland sent about 200 troops to the Iraq war, angering France and Germany. Now Poland is preparing to take command of one of Iraq's three postwar zones. The United States and Britain would control the others.
While cool toward France and Germany, the United States has warmed to Russia, which also opposed the war but has tried to mend relations. Earlier this week, Russia's parliament gave final approval to a treaty calling on Moscow and Washington to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds, to 1,700 to 2,200, by 2012.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will welcome dozens of world leaders, including Bush, Chirac and Schroeder, in St. Petersburg this evening for a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the city, Russia's former imperial capital. Bush and Putin will meet privately on Sunday and hold a news conference before they head for France and the summit of industrialized nations beginning Sunday evening.
Bush and Chirac will meet for 20 minutes before lunch Monday, and Bush acknowledged before leaving Washington that everyone would be watching the body language. He said it would not be a confrontational meeting.
Secretary of State Colin Powell played down expectations for Bush's meeting Wednesday in Aqaba, Jordan, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister.
"I used a little analogy the other day — let's not look for the 56-yard pass right away or the 54-yard field goal. We have to get this started," Powell said. "The tensions are great and the mistrust is high."
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