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At NATO summit, Bush likely to get some of what he wants

His quest for more forces in Afghanistan, headway on continental missile defense may gain ground in Bucharest.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 2, 2008

Collegiality: President Bush held a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko Tuesday in Kiev. Mr. Bush is expected to push to get Ukraine on a track to join NATO when members of the alliance meet in Bucharest starting April 2.

Gleb Garanich/AP

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WASHINGTON

George W. Bush arrives at a NATO summit in Bucharest Wednesday focused on both the details and the big picture of his presidency's transatlantic policy.

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His ability to get what he wants from the three-day gathering of NATO leaders – on boosting the alliance's combat presence in Afghanistan, advancing a continental missile-defense program, and extending the prospect of NATO membership to Russia's neighbors Ukraine and Georgia – will be challenged by his status as a lame-duck president.

While the trip is unlikely to be much of a victory tour, Mr. Bush is making what may be his last major European trip as president with his legacy intact as an American leader who helped expand eastward the reach of democracy and freedom on the Old Continent.

"Against the backdrop of ... a foreign policy that overall looks threadbare and that will hand off two land wars to his successor … this president's expansion of the freedom agenda to the newer democracies of Europe has the semblance of success," says Wess Mitchell, research director for the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Bush may well leave the summit claiming some gains on two of three top issues the US will raise, Mr. Mitchell says. On Afghanistan, the US should win some commitments of additional boots on the ground, he says. On missile defense, some kind of blessing is likely for a project to include facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, he adds.

Only on the issue of offering a membership track to Ukraine and Georgia – which Bush emphasized Tuesday on a presummit stop in Kiev, Ukraine – is the president likely fall short of his mark, Mitchell says.

Opposition from Europeans concerned about relations with Russia, especially from the Germans, is just too stiff.

"He's kept talking the talk, but I think he gave up on getting this done now a while ago," Mitchell says.

Bush champions the 26-member NATO alliance as being an engine for spreading and solidifying democracy in what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called "New Europe." This week's summit will issue invitations to Balkan countries Albania and Croatia to join the alliance, although a planned invitation to Macedonia is in doubt. And Bush had hoped to make offering a membership track to Ukraine and Georgia the capstone of his transatlantic legacy.

Promises match policy, officials say

As for the big picture, administration officials say Bush promised to advance a free, democratic, and secure Europe "from the Baltic to the Black Sea" – and that his policies have done so.

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