President Bush, arriving on European soil Friday for a summit of NATO leaders, hopes to rally a divided Western alliance behind a vow "to move beyond containment" in response to major political and economic change in Eastern Europe.
Against a backdrop of a continued rift over short-range nuclear weapons, Bush began his first official visit to Europe by countering a successful Soviet "charm offensive" with talk of greater rapprochement between East and West.At the same time, he sought to dampen the impact of the recent split within NATO by welcoming "the growing unity" of a Western Europe less than three years away from a historic economic integration that has added to questions about the future of the alliance.
"The United States welcomes a stronger and more united Europe," Bush said in remarks prepared for a formal arrival ceremony at Ciampino airport. "We believe, as I know you do, that European unity and the trans-Atlantic partnership reinforce each other."
A split with West Germany over short-range nuclear weapons posed a challenge for the president, who reportedly planned to offer the proposal of cutting U.S. troop strength in Europe by 10 percent, or about 34,000 soldiers.
The Washington Times quoted sources as saying Bush made the basic decision last weekend and would announce the pullout at the NATO summit next week.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, aboard Air Force One with the president, said the reported troop but is "an issue that we just are not free to discuss until the president has talked with the allies, discussed the conventional arms situation with them."
The White House comment appeared to indicate that Bush may indeed have a troop-reduction proposal up his sleeve.