In Europe, Bush Makes Gains On Iran, Afghanistan

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
June 17, 2008
Pg. 9
Britain Pledges Sanctions, Troops; No Breakthroughs
By Alistair MacDonald and John D. McKinnon
Winding down his European tour, President Bush won enough support on two key issues -- sanctions against Iran and troops in Afghanistan -- to allow him to return home bearing gifts.
Most of the progress was made with the United Kingdom, an old ally with a large Afghanistan troops commitment and a hard line on Iran already in place. But the fact Mr. Bush returns with something can be viewed as progress for an administration that has spent much of its time at loggerheads with many countries in the region.
"Were there any major breakthroughs? No. Were there incremental steps forward on issues? Yes," said Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington. "Who would have imagined in 2003 and 2004 that Bush would have productive talks with a host of European leaders and meet only a handful of protesters?"
Chief among the gains was an announcement Monday from U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of further sanctions against Iran. They will include "a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas" and freezing the assets of state-owned Bank Melli Iran, the largest commercial bank in Iran, Mr. Brown said at a news conference with Mr. Bush.
Foreign ministers from the European Union also agreed to freeze Bank Melli Iran's assets, a British government spokesman said. Mr. Brown said he would urge the rest of Europe to follow him on the other measures, too.
The United Nations has passed resolutions in attempts to stop Iran's plans to enrich uranium, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons. Until now, many European countries have resisted U.S.-led attempts to toughen the measures.
Mr. Brown also said the U.K. would send 230 more soldiers to Afghanistan in addition to the nearly 8,000 it has there. The U.S. has often claimed its allies, apart from the U.K., haven't pitched in enough in Afghanistan.
As Mr. Bush headed to Belfast for his final stop, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley termed the weeklong European tour an "extremely successful" visit.
It is less clear what Mr. Brown got from the president's visit, aside from encouragement on two of the prime minister's favorite causes: tackling global child poverty and health issues such as the spread of AIDS in Africa.
Mr. Bush said he will put pressure on leaders from the Group of Eight leading nations to back up their talk on such issues. "We expect you to be more than pledge-makers; we expect you to be check-writers for humanitarian reasons," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Brown also has recently been involved in what he describes as a "minutes-to-midnight" attempt to reach agreement on the Doha Round of global trade talks.
Monday, Mr. Bush said he was concerned about the talks, which began in 2001 but continue to stall as Western nations demand greater access to the industrial sectors of large emerging-market countries in return for cutting back subsidies on agricultural production.
"I'm concerned that while we're making some progress on the agricultural side, that nations such as Brazil and India and China are not making corresponding openings on manufacturing and service," Mr. Bush said.
A Downing Street spokesman said British diplomats were very pleased with Mr. Bush's visit and expect announcements on trade and a response to the political situation in Zimbabwe to be forthcoming.
The U.S. also sees potential in the British prime minister's visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to address issues around oil supply and demand.
Both sides see it as an opportunity for oil-consuming nations to demonstrate their plans to diversify their energy sources. That should signal "the prospect of some relief in the medium to long term" on prices, Mr. Hadley said.
Mr. Bush had warm words for Mr. Brown, in a relationship many had expected to be cordial at best following the U.S. president's close relationship to Mr. Brown's immediate predecessor, Tony Blair. Mr. Bush's description of Mr. Brown as a "strong" leader will be welcomed at Downing Street.
The prime minister's poll ratings have slid to a record low amid criticism that he has dithered throughout his year in charge, among other things.
Still, an endorsement from Mr. Bush doesn't always go down well in Europe. In a reminder of Mr. Bush's continuing unpopularity in the region, protesters clashed with police in the streets around Downing Street over the weekend. Footage of Air Force One landing in London ran on British television alongside images of the coffins of four British soldiers being made ready to be flown back home from Afghanistan.