Bush Hews to His Views in the Face of Controversy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Bush refused to budge Tuesday in the face of fierce European opposition to U.S. policies on missile defense, global warming and capital punishment. Instead he emphasized the common ground between Washington and its allies and asked for a fair hearing during his maiden official tour of the continent.

"I believe that people are interested in our opinions," Bush said. "There's so much more that unites us than divides. I refuse to let any issue isolate America from Europe. I look forward to making my case."

The president encountered a firestorm of controversy almost immediately upon his arrival in Spain on Tuesday morning, after an overnight transatlantic flight.

Top European Union officials--with whom Bush is to meet Thursday--denounced his latest defense of a go-slow approach toward curbing the "greenhouse gases" that warm the atmosphere.

"We regret that President Bush continues to reject the Kyoto Protocol," Environment Minister Kjell Larsson of Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, said in a statement issued in Brussels just two days before Bush is to attend the EU summit in Goteborg, Sweden. "Abandoning the Kyoto Protocol would mean postponing international action to combat climate change for years--and we are already late. We cannot accept this."

The 1997 treaty negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, lays out a decade-long international effort to combat global climate changes created by humankind. Just before leaving Washington on Monday, Bush reiterated his view that the Kyoto agreement was "fatally flawed" and called for further scientific research into global warming.

On missile defense, Bush gained support from Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who called Bush's concern for the safety of Americans "absolutely understandable."

"What I'm surprised by is the fact that there are people who, from the start, disqualified this initiative," Aznar said during a joint news conference on a patio of his official residence. "What we are dealing with here is an attempt to provide greater security for everyone."

A senior Bush administration official, who requested anonymity, told reporters later, "I think the Spanish are very close, conceptually," to Bush's position on the U.S. proposal to develop a missile defense shield. Many nations, including allies, fear the system would rekindle the arms race.

Rhetorically, Bush broke little new ground here as he ardently defended a missile defense system, capital punishment and his stance on global warming.

On missile defense, Bush denigrated the Antiballistic Missile Treaty as "a relic of the past," one that he said Moscow and Washington now must lay aside.

The 1972 treaty is widely regarded as the foundation of modern arms control. Bush asserted, however, that it now hampers research and development of missile defense technology, which he said would "make the world more peaceful, not more dangerous."

On global warming, Bush acknowledged that he and many European leaders differ over the Kyoto treaty, but he added, "We are committed to reducing greenhouse gases in the United States."

Bush also was asked repeatedly at the news conference about the death penalty, which he supports but many of his European counterparts oppose, including Aznar.

Bush stood his ground.

"Democracies debate issues. Democracies represent the will of the people. The death penalty is the will of the people in the United States," he said, asserting that "if the death penalty is certain, just and fair, it will deter crime."

In Madrid, about 500 demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy to show their displeasure at Bush's policies. Many more thousands of protesters are expected in Goteborg.

Earlier Tuesday, Bush and First Lady Laura Bush visited with King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain at Zarzuela Palace.

Bush also had lunch with Aznar.

The president is on a weeklong European trip. He will meet with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in Brussels today, attend the EU summit in Sweden on Thursday and visit Warsaw on Friday. On Saturday, he will visit Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he will meet for the first time with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

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