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Bush heads to Europe for six-nation tour

  • Story Highlights
  • President Bush's trip aims to highlight improved U.S.-European relations
  • President leaves on eight-day, six-nation tour of Europe
  • Bush expected to push NATO allies to keep up military commitments in Afghanistan
  • First lady Laura Bush visits Afghanistan on unannounced trip
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From Elaine Quijano
CNN White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush traveled to Europe on Monday for an eight-day trip to highlight improved U.S. relations.

The tour, which starts in Slovenia for a U.S.-European Union summit, likely will be his last trip to the continent during his presidency.

Bush's visit will take him through Germany, Italy, France, Britain and Northern Ireland.

The tour is meant to focus on leaving behind the bitterness over Iraq and setting a brighter tone for U.S.-European relations in the future.

Bush is expected to push NATO allies to keep up their military commitments in Afghanistan.

"The countries I'm going to have committed troops to Afghanistan, and of course I want to thank them and remind them there's a lot of work to be done," Bush said at the White House's South Lawn shortly before departing for Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

While her husband's off to Europe, first lady Laura Bush flew into Afghanistan on Sunday for an unannounced, nine-hour visit meant to highlight progress in the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

It was the first lady's third visit to Afghanistan. She last appeared there in March 2006 with the president.

In Europe this week, the U.S. leader also is expected to discuss curbing nuclear ambitions in Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and climate change. Video Watch why some Europeans haven't warmed up to Bush »

Bush's visit includes a stop to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, when the United States and other Allies defied a Soviet blockade to fly food and supplies into West Berlin. Video Watch what Bush says before heading to Europe »

The president will also mark 60 years since the Marshall Plan, the massive U.S. program to help rebuild war-torn Europe.

"There will be an effort to underscore the positives that are lying ahead in the U.S.-European relationship," said Daniel Benjamin, an expert in European affairs who works with the Brookings Institution. "But I wouldn't look for any major headlines coming out of this. It will be more about the pictures than the words."

With seven months left in Bush's term, some European governments are looking beyond him to his successor.

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"They want to know who their new partner in the White House will be. They want to have some sense of where the relationship is going to go," Benjamin said.

Bush aides insist the trip will be productive by helping lay the groundwork for next month's meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Japan.

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