Washington : US President George W. Bush heads to this year's Group of Eight summit determined to block binding cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving him isolated among other rich nation leaders who favour stronger action on global warming.
On a European trip that in the Czech Republic and ends in Bulgaria, Bush also wants to show resolve in rebuffing Russian objections to US plans for a missile defence system in Eastern Europe.
Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a chance to talk at the three-day G8 summit, which starts Wednesday in the German seaside resort of Heiligendamm. Leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are also attending.
His standing undercut by the war in Iraq, Bush used the pre-summit week to move ahead on burning humanitarian issues and to douse a crisis at the World Bank.
He imposed new economic sanctions on Sudan for obstructing a larger peacekeeping force for Darfur and urged the US Congress to triple funding for a global anti-AIDS campaign to $45 billion. He also proposed veteran diplomat Robert Zoellick to replace former Iraq war planner Paul Wolfowitz as the World Bank president.
But while European Union leaders have been willing – even eager – to set aside trans-Atlantic divisions over Iraq, ordinary Europeans' view of Bush remains largely negative.
"The relationship is better, the atmospherics are good. But just beneath the surface there are still huge differences of opinion on fundamental policy issues," said Charles Kupchan, a Europe expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank.
Bush's pre-summit proposal for 10 to 15 countries that blast the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to join forces on cutting emissions was widely dismissed in the EU as too little, too late.
It was as far as Bush would go to help out German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year's G8 president and his strongest European ally. The EU is committed to mandatory cuts and UN-sponsored talks to bring in the rest of the world; Japan and Canada also favour binding, long-term goals.
US negotiators fought to remove any references to binding targets from the summit's 22-page draft statement on global warming. Bush argued that each nation should set its own goals for cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases – mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – that are blamed for global warming.
"There's this fixation on a one-size-fits-all approach," said James Connaughton, the top White House adviser on climate change.
But the mood in the US is shifting. The Democratic Party, resurgent since winning control of Congress from Bush's Republicans in 2006 elections, says the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter should lead the fight against climate change.
With his G8 proposal, Bush is just "shifting from denial to delay," Democratic lawmaker Edward Markey, head of a new House of Representatives panel on global warming, said Saturday.
Bush and Merkel plan to meet for lunch Wednesday before the main summit. Bush also meets separately with departing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunchest European ally, and new centre-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In a rebuff to Putin, Bush has bracketed his G8 trip with visits to Prague and Poland in what were once Soviet satellite lands. The US is negotiating to base a radar station in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, prompting a stream of angry rhetoric from Moscow and jitters among Western European governments.
The US says the systems would be used only to defend against missile threats from rogue nations such as Iran and poses no threat to Russia. Moscow has rejected the assurances and tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile in reply.
Bush visits Rome next Saturday for his first audience with Pope Benedict XVI, telling reporters he looks forward "to hearing this good, decent, honourable man share some thoughts with me".
He hoped to tell the pontiff about US aid to fight diseases such as AIDS and malaria, and – "if he cares to talk about Cuba" – about US hopes for an end to communist rule on the Caribbean island.
Bush also planned to meet Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to bolster his political efforts to keep troops in Afghanistan.
Bush travels on to Tirana for the first official visit to Albania by a sitting US president. He plans to meet leaders of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to discuss their hopes of joining the NATO military alliance, and regional issues such as Kosovo.
He concludes the trip June 11 in Sofia to highlight Bulgaria, a NATO member that joined the EU this year in a key sign of transition from its Stalinist past.
"Bulgaria shares core values with the US, which makes it one of our strongest allies in the region," US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.