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Bush begins tricky Europe trip

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President Bush speaks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Tuesday, marking his first European visit as president.  


MADRID, Spain -- U.S. President George W. Bush has started his first official visit to Europe since taking office amid international criticism on a range of issues.

Bush is meeting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Tuesday after arriving in Madrid earlier in the day.

He is under pressure from some European leaders over his refusal to back the Kyoto protocol on global warming.

There is also criticism over his plans for a national missile defence system, while the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on Monday has also prompted fresh calls in Europe for the U.S. to look again at its use of the death penalty.

The president and first lady Laura Bush were greeted by a few Spanish dignitaries at Madrid Airport before meeting King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at Zarzuela Palace.

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Bush then headed for Aznar's ranch for talks, with the two men due to hold a press conference later in the day.

Earlier, the president mispronounced the prime minister's name during a taped interview with state-run television, the Associated Press reported.

Bush said he looked forward to meeting Aznar -- but the name came out as Anzar. The president also made grammatical errors as he spoke Spanish, with gender disagreement and emphasis on the wrong syllables.

"I have to practice this very lovely language," Bush told the interviewer before switching to English. "If I don't practice I am going to destroy this language."

Hours before departing for his six-day, five-nation tour, Bush promised increased environmental research and commitment from the United States in response to the goals set up by the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Many European allies are angry at Bush for his opposition to the accord and have expressed scepticism about his plans to deal with global warming.

"Kyoto is in many ways unrealistic," Bush said in the White House Rose Garden. "Many countries cannot meet their Kyoto targets. The targets themselves were arbitrary and not based upon science.

"For America, complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact with layoffs of workers and price increases for consumers."

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, but also said he would not submit it to the U.S. Senate for ratification until several changes were made.

There have been protests in Madrid against the Bush administration's environmental policies. Three protests have been held since Sunday.

"We want to tell him that he is not welcome here if he keeps with his policy to reject the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only international agreement against climate change," said one demonstrator representing Greenpeace.

Before he left, Bush promised his administration would fully fund high-priority areas for scientific research into climate change over the next five years, and help developing nations match the U.S. commitment.

Following his trip to Spain, the president was scheduled to visit Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Along the way he will take part in his first group interaction with leaders of the European Union and the NATO alliance.

Bush plans to return to Europe later this summer for the annual meeting of the Group of Eight nations in Genoa, Italy.







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