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Europe Keen to Leave Tensions in the Past (WASHINGTON POST) By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright 02/02/05 Page A15)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55740-2005Feb1.html WASHINGTON POST WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
As newly installed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a week- long trip to Europe tomorrow, European officials said they are eager to put the tensions of the past four years behind them, but without minimizing potential areas of conflict, such as how to handle Iran´s nuclear ambitions.

President Bush thrilled Europeans by deciding that both he and Rice would make their first post-inaugural overseas trips to Europe -- carefully choreographed acts designed to show an interest in repairing a transatlantic breach over Iraq, the Middle East peace process, global warming and other issues. Europeans said conditions are ripe for a rapprochement, particularly now that the elections in Iraq appear to have gone smoothly and the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has given new impetus to peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We´re not in the business of fighting last year´s war," a senior German official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of U.S.-European relations. "There really is a mood of positive expectations."

Nevertheless, Europeans say they await Rice´s visit with more than a little nervousness, especially because some disputes will not be easily resolved. U.S. officials are fuming that the European Union is about to lift an arms embargo imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, though European officials stress that they will impose a code of conduct on exports. Rice told the Agence France-Presse and Reuters news services yesterday in an interview that lifting the embargo would "send the wrong signal about human rights."

On Iran, some Europeans are frustrated because they believe their efforts to restrain Iran´s nuclear program through diplomacy will fail without U.S. involvement -- and the Bush administration has not budged from its position that it will not join in any talks.

"It is not some sort of cozy discussion. It is very serious," John Bruton, the European Commission´s ambassador in Washington, told reporters over lunch yesterday. "It is important that if you want the Iranians to truly get to the bottom line, there has to be a sense that there is a U.S. ´buy-in´ " to any final deal.

Vice President Cheney´s recent statement that Israel might feel compelled to attack Iran´s nuclear facilities received wide publicity in Europe and alarmed European officials, adding to U.S.-European tensions over the issue. But British officials disagree with some European officials, saying that talk of huge divisions on Iran are overblown. "Europeans will always try and push for the maximum line on U.S. engagement," one British official said.

In a whirlwind seven days, Rice will travel to London, Berlin, Warsaw, Ankara, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Rome, Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg City. She will also meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov in Ankara, Turkey.

The issues will vary from stop to stop -- the Poles want to discuss assisting the new Ukraine government, while the Turks are worried that the Iraqi Kurds are receiving too much deference -- but in every stop Rice and European officials will also try to narrow differences over issues of regional interest.

Rice´s one-day stop in Israel is designed to demonstrate renewed U.S. engagement in the peace process. In the first term, Europeans complained that the administration did not pay enough attention to it.

Rice also plans to give a major speech and to take questions from the audience in Paris, the center of European opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In the speech, she plans to say that Europeans and Americans have common values and that it would be best to work together to advance common interests, such as global democracy.

In France, Germany and Britain, she will meet in closed session with leading academics and intellectuals.

British officials say Prime Minister Tony Blair secured an agreement from Bush after the November elections to schedule an early visit to Europe to repair relations, and Rice´s trip is intended to lay the groundwork for the president´s visit later this month. She will meet with the head of government in virtually every country.

"She will be greeted as a rising star in the sky of Washington, a confidante of President Bush and a woman of great power and influence," a European ambassador said.

Still, there is little indication that Rice plans to offer any significant policy changes, European and American officials said. "We are in a moment of growing convergence on a number of issues," the ambassador said. "The substance has not changed; the positions are the same as a few months ago. But the style and circumstances have changed."

Two previous flashpoints -- Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- provide the greatest possibilities for closer coordination, European officials said. A number of key European allies have begun to withdraw troops from Iraq, though during Cheney´s visit to Poland last week, the Poles agreed to withdraw only 700 troops and defer a decision on the remaining 1,700. But the administration has chosen not to make an issue of the departures, and Bush in his statement Sunday on the Iraqi elections pointedly praised the assistance of the European Union.

Simon Serfaty, senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies´ European program, said the Europeans are open to helping on Iraq but need a better sense of the U.S. strategy. "The Europeans will be willing and able to respond to some of the new missions, on reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Iraqi state and training forces outside of Iraq," he said. "But they need a sense of the endgame. It´s not different from the debate in Washington: How does Bush envision the exit? Under what conditions?"

Rice told the news services not to expect any major shift on Iraq from Europeans who opposed the war. But she said there is a "steady evolution of help to the Iraqis," noting that Europeans have agreed to forgive much of Iraq´s debt and Germany has trained Iraqi police.

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