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Bush Talks Tough Against Russia In First Foreign Address

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sounded a firm tone against Russia in his first major foreign speech in Germany on Tuesday while also pushing for increased U.S. trade relations in the region.

The likely GOP presidential candidate, set to announce his White House bid on Monday, warned in a speech to an economic conference in Berlin that Ukraine "must be permitted to choose its own path" as Russia continues military aggression there.

"Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors. And who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered? Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build," said Bush.

While he didn't get into specifics about how to achieve that, Bush called for increased clarity on what type of sanctions would be imposed on the country if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does not back down against a united international front.

"There should be a clear understanding of, first of all, our support for the Russian people. We need to make it clear that while Mr. Putin is a ruthless pragmatist — he will push until someone pushes back — and I believe NATO's responsibility is to do just that," Bush said during the question and answer session.

Bush applauded the "principled position" that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose Christian Democratic Party he was addressing, had taken in support of Russian sanctions, even though the country is an important trading partner.

"I don't think we should be reacting to bad behavior. By being clear what the consequences of 'bad behavior' is in advance, I think we will deter the kind of aggression that we fear from Russia. But always reacting, and giving the sense we're reacting in a tepid fashion, only enables the bad behavior of Putin," said Bush.

He also called for increased U.S. military spending to bolster alliances in the region, which he said had been hampered by sequestration cuts to defense.

"One of the obligations of the next president is to rebuild our military, to stop the automatic cuts in spending, that sends a pretty chilling signal to our friends that are counting on the United States to lead in this regard," said Bush.

While he criticized the Obama administration in that regard, he did back giving the president increased trade promotion authority to negotiate deals both in Asia and in Europe — which he noted many in the president's own party oppose.

The so-called fast-track authority "is essential to be able to get these deals done," said Bush, and "has more support among Republicans than Democrats — a lot more."

"More and more these days, real progress takes the form of global trade. When emerging markets account for 40 percent of revenues to EU companies, and for two-thirds of growth worldwide, you know you've got a major trend at work," said Bush.

"And to state the obvious, it's a trend we should support in every way we can. The EU and the United States have a common interest in the steady opening of markets across the world. What keeps that progress steady are standards and rules that are modern, transparent, and fair. And that doesn't happen by itself."

Bush called for a "serious plan to complete the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership," or TTIP, the trade and investment deal being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union.

Of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal between other Asian countries and the U.S. and Canada, Bush said the deal was necessary in order to combat the growing economic influence of China in the region, but that the major superpower also couldn't be ignored.

"We have to engage with China as well. We can't just push them in isolation and have no conversation, because there's many ways we could create real conflict without a complete dialogue on every aspect of the relationship," he said.

The likely GOP presidential candidate stuck to mostly safe territory in his address, which came on the first day of his six-day trip to the region. He'll also visit Poland and Estonia for other business meetings.

Bush even joked that the traditional sojourns, which have become a rite of passage for many presidential hopefuls, often seem odd.

"I suppose one possible question is why an American politician, who might run for president, is in Berlin, Germany at all – and not in places like Berlin, New Hampshire, or Berlin, Iowa," said Bush. "The short answer is that this journey has other purposes. America's next president, whoever earns that responsibility, will have friendships here in Europe; commitments here in Europe that are as vital as any we have in this world. So much depends on them, and always will."

In a region, though, that's been critical of the last President Bush, the younger politician didn't invoke his brother's foreign policy, but did invoke his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was in office when the Soviet Union fell and the divided city of Berlin was reunified.

"The German people know a little something about history's decisive turns. And you will understand if I note, as a point of personal pride, that my father worked very closely with Chancellor Helmut Kohl as East and West came together," said Bush. " That unification was not inevitable. Many doubted at the time whether it should be attempted. But Chancellor Kohl was adamant... my father was deeply supportive the work was done and today, Germany is whole and Germany is free."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.