London (CNSNews.com) - President Bush Thursday eased into what is likely to turn out a difficult European trip, with a relaxed program including visits to museums and lunch with the Queen, ahead of more robust talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair later.
With clashes expected with Washington's allies at the weekend G-8 summit in Genoa over Bush's stances on the Kyoto Protocol and missile defense, the mood will change completely.
But the visit to a wet Britain began on a low key, with the president and first lady landing at a Royal Airforce Base in Oxfordshire late Wednesday. Met by a small group of demonstrators protesting against the missile defense proposals, the Bushes spent the night at the London residence of the newly appointed U.S. ambassador, William Farish.
Thursday began on a cultural note, with a visit to the British Museum where he and Laura Bush, a librarian, were to read to local schoolchildren in the historic Reading Room, completed in 1857 and hailed as one of the great sights of London.
They will also visit the Cabinet War Rooms, where Winston Churchill oversaw Britain's fight against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers during the Second World War.
Bush, an admirer of Churchill, earlier this week compared him to a Texan for his courage and principles. He also praised him for his sense of humor, adding "we need more humor in the public arena."
Then Bush will inspect the troops before a reception and lunch with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. The president met her before, at a White House dinner when his father was in office, and recalled finding her "neat."
The Bushes will then go to Chequers, Blair's country residence, where they will spend the night.
There, the leaders will discuss a range of issues, primarily Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol as the way to tackle climate change; his plans to build a defensive umbrella to defend against missiles fired by unstable states; and the troubled Northern Ireland peace process.
Before leaving Washington, Bush voiced support for attempts by Britain and Ireland to break a deadlock in the peace process in Northern Ireland, calling on militant groups to disarm.
On missile defense, differences exist although Britain has taken a less critical stance than other European Union member states, expressing an understanding of the reasoning behind the U.S. plans but not yet overt support.
Blair's official spokesman said Wednesday the prime minister understood Washington's concerns about post-Cold War threats, but stopped short of saying Britain would cooperate.
He said the U.S. and Russia were approaching the issue in a constructive way, and that the future of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - which Bush wants to scrap or amend - was a matter for Washington and Moscow, the two signatories.
More than one-third of Britain's lawmakers, mostly from Blair's Labor Party, have signed a House of Commons motion voicing "grave doubts" about the missile defense plans.
Differences between Washington and London over Kyoto are considerably greater. Blair told the House of Commons Wednesday Britain did have a disagreement with the U.S. on the decision to walk away from the 1997 treaty.
Blair said the UK remained committed to the Kyoto agreement, which requires industrialized nations to cut "greenhouse" gases blamed for global warming. He hoped to "bridge the gap" between the U.S. and its critics on the issue.
"What is important is that the U.S. administration has agreed that the end of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important and right and we are now debating the means," he told lawmakers.
On Friday, Bush flies to Genoa to attend the summit of the world's leading industrialized nations and Russia, where climate change and missile defense are again expected to feature strongly. He will also hold bilateral talks with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Early next week he will meet Pope John Paul II in Rome, and making a brief visit to Kosovo to visit U.S. peacekeepers before heading home.
See Earlier Story:
Bush Arrives In Europe Ready to Tackle Tough Issues