Signs of Bush mending foreign fences - to an extent

In this week's trip to Canada, he emphasized global cooperation, but he also outlined contentious positions.

Expect to see more of the kind of charm offensive that President Bush undertook this week in Canada, as he redoubles efforts in his second term to repair relations with traditional allies.

Just don't expect the warm words and conciliatory tone to extend to the kind of policy changes that allies would like to see.

The signs that Mr. Bush wants better relations with some of the countries his policies alienated in his first term are clear. In this week's Canada trip, which was his first official visit to the country as president, Bush said in a speech that "building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting effective multilateral action" would be one of the "three great goals" of his second-term foreign policy - along with the war on terrorism and promoting democracy.

After a trip to South America and a summit with Asian-Pacific leaders last month, the president received Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo at the White House Thursday, and Bush praised Nigeria for its participation in African peacekeeping forces. Next up Saturday, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf visits the White House, and then the president welcomes Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday.

The emphasis on international relations was kicked off within hours of Bush's reelection by the White House visit of NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. But Bush's intention to pursue policies that don't sit well with many friends means the fence mending could be difficult, some experts say.

If anything, the president's willingness to press ahead with positions and policies that are unpopular to foreign ears suggests Bush envisions multilateral action that is carried out on America's terms.

"President Bush is clearly interested in trying to repair relations with America's traditional allies. The body language suggests he is not blind to America's isolation," says Charles Kupchan, a foreign- policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington. "The question is whether this effort will go beyond the rhetorical, whether the Bush administration will not just talk the talk but really take the allies into consideration. And on that point there's plenty of reason for skepticism."

During a speech in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Wednesday, Bush pressed Canada to join in a continental missile-defense system - an initiative opposed by many Canadians and a prickly topic for the government that the US had said it would not belabor on this visit. At the same time, in his clearest statement on Middle East peace since Yasser Arafat's death, Bush said "the heart of the matter" is "the need for a Palestinian democracy." That position may not sit well with Middle East peace-process partners, including Canada and the European Union, which believe the US is unwilling to make necessary demands on Israel to move both sides forward.

Yet no matter how sharp the policy disputes may be, Bush's new attention to foreign allies will prevail well into the second term because of the high cost both of "going it alone" and of the domestic reforms on the Bush agenda, analysts say.

"With Iraq costing $250 billion as of February [2005] and the meter still running, and then the high start-up costs of the tax and Social Security reforms the president wants, the reality of the constraints we're facing is dawning," says John Hulsman, a foreign-policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "When you add all that together, turning to allies is the only thing to do."

Mr. Kupchan of Georgetown agrees that Iraq has "given the president the cold shower" that prompts Bush to "reach out to allies and international institutions."

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