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Bush European Trip Mends Fences but Differences Remain - 2005-03-09


INTRO: President Bush has just ended a trip to Europe, his first overseas visit since his re-election. His trip followed that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the Bush administration works to mend fences with European governments. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent Andr?de Nesnera discusses the Bush trip and looks at the prospects for better U.S.-Euro relations.

TEXT: President Bush's trip was aimed at repairing transatlantic relations strained by disagreements over the Iraq war. Three countries, France, Germany and Russia, were strongly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And Europeans remember that 18 months ago, as National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice was widely quoted as saying that the best way to deal with those three countries was to: Forgive Russia. Ignore Germany. Punish France.

During a speech in Brussels (Feb. 21st), home of NATO and the European Union, President Bush made clear it is time to put differences aside.

/// BUSH ACT ///

"Our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us."

/// END ACT ///

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic say the Bush administration and European governments have decided to put aside their disagreements over Iraq.

Timothy Garton Ash, European expert at (St. John's College) Oxford University, says both sides believe they have a stake in the future of Iraq.

/// GARTON ASH ///

"It is very striking that among the governments, notably of France and Germany, there is a real effort to put the issue of Iraq behind them. And I don't think that anything that we do in Iraq now is going to be a major source of conflict across the Atlantic."

/// END ACT ///

For his part, Radek Sikorski, a former Polish deputy foreign minister and an expert on Europe with the American Enterprise Institute, says the transatlantic alliance works better when both sides cooperate.

/// SIKORSKI ACT ///

"Many Europeans want to 'make up' and I think the 'Bush Two' (Eds: Bush's second administration) team has decided that the spat (quarrel) with Europe has cost too much. Look at the three countries where the U.S. has been active in: Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq. Well, in the two where we had U.S.-European cooperation, in Afghanistan and Ukraine, we've had success at a much lower cost than in the third one, Iraq."

/// END ACT ///

While President Bush's trip to Europe appears to have brought the two sides closer together, the U.S. leader continues to be very unpopular with the European public.

A survey recently released by the German Marshall Fund of the United States says that 62-percent of French respondents and 59-percent of Germans "Disapprove very much" of the way President Bush is handling international affairs.

Bernhard May, senior U.S. expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations (in Berlin), believes those views will not shift.

/// MAY ACT ///

"The problem is that the people have this idea of Bush as being na?e, being this cowboy, a guy who likes weapons. Therefore, I'm afraid, the public attitude towards president Bush will not change over the next couple of years. And this will make it a little bit more difficult for the governments, but governments can handle it, if they (would) like to."

/// END ACT ///

Despite the apparent rapprochement between Europe and the United States, experts say the two sides have differing views on certain key issues such as how to address Iran's suspected attempt to produce nuclear weapons, and on Europe's plans to lift an arms embargo on China.

Dominique Moisi, European expert with the French Institute of International Relations (in Paris), says it is a question of differing world views.

/// MOISI ACT ///

"We still do not see the world alike. Clearly, Americans are much more activist in the world and they say the goal of the world is to improve the world. Europeans are much more prudent, maybe because they have less means than the United States. But I would say (what is needed is) some sense of modesty on the part of the United States that would recognize the need for allies and some sense of ambition and respect for the United States on the part of Europe.

/// END ACT ///

Experts agree President Bush's visit to Europe began to heal strained relations. But they say it was only a start and now has to be followed by consultations and hard work to find a common approach to some pressing problems. (Signed)

NEB/ADEN/JP/RH/FC

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