On the eve of a European mission that faces discord around the conference table and in the streets, President Bush on Tuesday offered his broadest assessment of the United States' global role and set a mandate for fighting poverty by promoting trade.
He proposed that the World Bank and other lending agencies assigned to aid the developing world "dramatically shift" the money they devote to the poorest nations from loans to outright grants that would not have to be repaid. Specifically, he proposed that up to $3-billion a year _ or about half of the bank's lending _ be provided as grants for education, health, nutrition, water supply, sanitation "and other human needs."
The speech to the World Bank was the most focused look at foreign policy, international poverty and the responsibilities of the wealthy nations that Bush has given as president. It reflected a recognition, often central to his predecessor's diplomacy, that trade holds the promise in the post-Cold War era of fueling both democracy and wealth.
At the same time, he drew a line against the vast number of protesters gathering in Genoa, Italy, to demonstrate against the weekend summit in the Italian port city of the world's seven largest industrialized democracies and Russia, the focal point of the presidential trip that begins tonight in London and ends next Tuesday in Yugoslavia's Kosovo province.
Addressing the demonstrators' central complaint _ that expanded trade threatens the world's poorest _ Bush said: "They seek to shut down meetings because they want to shut down free trade. I respect the right to peaceful expression, but make no mistake _ those who protest free trade are no friends of the poor. Those who protest free trade seek to deny them their best hope for escaping poverty."
Echoing Pope John Paul II, with whom he will meet at the pontiff's summer residence, Bush said that "the great moral challenge" of the era is "placing the freedom of the market in the service of human freedom."
"Our willingness to recognize that with freedom comes great responsibility, especially for the least among us, may take the measure of the 21st century," Bush declared, setting a marker of U.S. policy before the protests begin.
"To all nations promoting democratic government and the rule of law so that trade and aid can succeed, you're not alone. To all nations tearing down the walls of suspicion and isolation, and building ties of trade and trust, you're not alone. And to all nations who are willing to stake their future on the global progress of liberty, you will never be alone," the president said.
Bush said one of his top objectives in Genoa would be to secure the strong endorsement of his summit partners for a new round of global trade negotiations to begin before the year's end. Bush will meet with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.
As he has in the past, Bush called for a shift in the strategic framework from Cold War doctrine to one that addresses the new threats: cyberterrorism, weapons of mass destruction and "missiles in the hands of those for whom terror and blackmail are a very way of life."
The chief spokesman for the World Bank, Caroline Anstey, said that it lends $6-billion a year to the poorest nations. Overall, the United States annually contributes $803-million to the bank. The decision to give the money away, she said, was one not for the bank's officials but for "the shareholders," in effect the major lenders or, specifically, the United States and its wealthiest partners.
But, she said, without money coming in to the bank from the payback of its earlier loans, the source of grants would soon dry up unless the United States and others increased contributions. Bush did not mention additional U.S. contributions in his speech.
Bush cast such a shift as a step beyond reducing the staggering debt of developing nations to ending it.
He also called on the banks to increase the money they provide for education and, reflecting a tenet of his domestic policy, to tie that aid to programs with measurable results.
(text accompanying chart not provided for electronic library, see microfilm)