Bush retrenches on U.S. mission in Kosovo
ROME, Italy (CNN) -- President Bush arrived back in Washington from Kosovo on Tuesday after telling cheering U.S. peacekeeping troops they and allied forces "came in [to Kosovo] together and we will leave together."
Bush said during his election campaign he would speedily remove U.S. troops from the Balkans and press Europe to take up the slack -- a position criticized by the allies. He now says U.S. military will stay until both the allies and the United States believe the job is finished.
The visit to Kosovo was the finale of a European tour that included stops in England and Italy. During the tour, Bush met with Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pope John Paul II and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He also attended the Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy -- a meeting of leaders of the world's seven wealthiest industrialized nations and Russia.
Speaking on the last stop of his second European trip, Bush said that two years after NATO's military campaign against Yugoslavia, NATO has made "good progress" building up Kosovo.
But, he said, there is "still a lot of work to do," notably next-door in Macedonia where fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces threatens to destroy a NATO-brokered cease-fire.
"America has a vital interest in European stability and therefore, peace in the region," Bush told the U.S. troops. "That's why I've taken steps to cut off outside support for the rebels in Macedonia. That's why we need you to keep patrolling the border and cutting off the arms flow."
Bush also said the United States must "hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining" and "NATO forces can go home."
Marking his first overseas visit with U.S. troops as commander in chief, the president traveled to Camp Bondsteel, the sprawling logistical base for U.S. peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. There he met with military and civilian commanders, ate macaroni and cheese in the mess hall and delivered a pep talk to the troops.
Bush took the opportunity of his visit to sign into law a $1 billion measure that includes pay raises for military men and women and improvements in health care benefits.
About 42,000 troops from more than 30 countries make up the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo and Macedonia, known as KFOR. About 5,400 of the 36,000 troops in Kosovo are Americans.
Bush, who has been criticized for a lack of experience in international affairs, said he "broke the ice" during last month's European trip and built on those relationships on this visit, addressing issues such as global warming and missile defense.
"I'm very confident that the leaders appreciated my straightforwardness the last time I came to Europe and my willingness to continue to dialogue," he said.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi seemed to support that assessment as he lavishly praised the U.S. leader's approach at his first G-8 summit.
"You conquered everyone because you were so spontaneous, so natural," Berlusconi said after meeting with Bush in Rome. "It was such a frank way to say things, because yes is yes, no is no .... With President Bush, everything is simple."
Violent clashes between anti-globalization protesters and Italian police, which resulted in the death of one young demonstrator, complicated the G-8 summit.
The death overshadowed the G-8's unveiling of a $1.3 billion global fund to combat HIV/AIDS and new steps to alleviate poverty. The U.S. leader argued that activists fighting against global trade were hurting, not helping, the poor.
"People are allowed to protest, but for those who claim they're speaking on behalf of the poor, for those who claim that shutting down trade will benefit the poor, they're dead wrong," Bush said.
Bush also continued his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty that requires mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, despite increasing pressure from Europe.
Frustrated allies pledged to ratify the agreement without the United States. Bush argues the treaty does not include developing nations such as China and that it could hurt U.S. industries and the American economy.
The day after the G-8 summit, Kyoto supporters got a boost when the world's environmental ministers hammered out a compromise agreement for implementing the treaty.
Bush heads home with a boost for his U.S. missile defense proposal after he and Russian President Putin agreed to begin talks linking missile defense with reductions in the supply of nuclear weapons in both countries.
-- CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report
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