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U.S./EU: Bush's Visit To Europe -- A Sincere Healing Of Wounds Or Just Empty Rhetoric?

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> The United States and its European allies France and Germany have endured perhaps the most difficult year of their post-World War II relationship. The main cause was the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which was strongly opposed by Paris and Berlin. But now there is agreement at the United Nations on a new Iraq resolution. And this week's celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France included much conciliatory language. Are real improvement in relations under way?

Prague, 8 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- There is a glimmer of hope that trans-Atlantic relations are getting back on track, following the events of the last few days.

At the United Nations in New York, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said today that France will support a revised UN resolution on Iraq's future. Earlier, Germany's UN Ambassador Guenter Pleuger said his country also accepts the measure.

Passage of the Anglo-American resolution is a key step in the process of ending the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. France and Germany, both major opponents of the war, have until now held back on the resolution. Barnier said France is still not fully satisfied with certain aspects of the resolution but will vote for it when it comes before the Security Council later today.
"These are very basic differences, and they will continue to exist. But hopefully, we will find new ground to discuss and come up with some viable compromises in the not-too-distant future." -- German analyst

The positive news from the UN follows the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to France this week for commemorations surrounding the 60th anniversary of D-Day. That trip provided the ideal background for comments designed to ease the diplomatic strains of the past year.

French President Jacques Chirac praised the "ancient friendship" between his country and the United States. He called America an "eternal ally" and said grief over the 11 September 2001 terror attacks is "burned forever" into the consciousness of the French.

Recalling the massive troop landings that began the liberation of Europe in 1944, Chirac said, "And to the entire American nation, sharing this solemn moment with us, to all those men and women who paid the ultimate price of those heroic days, the message of France is indeed a message of friendship and brotherhood, a message of thanks, of appreciation and gratitude."

Bush's remarks on the same occasion were designed to portray a trans-Atlantic alliance, forged in war, that is still strong today -- and which is still relevant. "Across Europe, Americans shared the battle with Britons, Canadians, Poles, Free French, and brave citizens from other lands taken back, one by one, from Nazi rule," he said. "In the trials and total sacrifice of the war, we became inseparable allies. The nations that liberated a conquered Europe would stand together for the freedom of all of Europe. The nations that battled across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great alliance of freedom is strong. And it is still needed today."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also made conciliatory remarks in Normandy. Merely the sight of Bush, Chirac, and Schroeder appearing together for the occasion appeared to help ease the sense of coolness between them.

London-based analyst Mark Joyce of the Royal United Services Institute believes the worst of the trans-Atlantic troubles has passed. He said officials on both sides of the ocean realize the situation got "completely out of hand" last year -- primarily because of the invasion of Iraq, and secondly, due to the dispute over the European Union's security and defense policy, in which France, Germany, and Belgium announced they would form a military planning cell independent of the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance.

"There was lots of unnecessary damage caused to trans-Atlantic relations, and a lot of work has been done ever since, to try to repair that,” Joyce said. “And what we see now is the public culmination of that work. We have the big diplomatic set piece -- [namely,] the diplomatic shows at the D-Day commemorations. And we will see them again at the end of the month at the NATO summit. This is the culmination of a lot of diplomatic work over the course of the last year."

Joyce said the Bush administration, in particular, has made concessions, because it realizes it needs European support to untangle the unexpectedly difficult situation it faces in Iraq. "[The Americans] needed to make major concessions if they were going to bring the Europeans back on side," he said. "The French and Germans have made it quite clear that they are not going to send troops [to Iraq] under practically any circumstances. But French and German support remains nonetheless very important in terms of a long-term solution in Iraq, and in terms of the Americans' wider [pro-democracy] plans in the Middle East."

Analyst Ingo Peters of the Free University of Berlin cautions that -- despite the easing of tensions over Iraq -- U.S.-European relations are still beset by a number of other problems. He listed as first among them the differing concepts held by Americans and Europeans over how to deal with international terrorism. There is also the Israel-Palestinian issue, the International Criminal Court, which is backed by the European Union but rejected by Washington, as well as disagreements over how to deal with climate change.

"These are very basic differences, and they will continue to exist. But hopefully, we will find new ground to discuss and come up with some viable compromises in the not-too-distant future," Peters said. He said there are no shortcuts to finding solutions to these problems. But he said at least the air is clearer than it used to be.