Prague, 9 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Condoleezza Rice is calling for the United States and Europe to make a new beginning after four years of often stormy relations over aspects of U.S. President George W. Bush's foreign policy.
Rice, who is one of the main architects of much of that policy, made the overture in a keynote speech in Paris on 8 February.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a time of unprecedented opportunity for the trans-Atlantic alliance," Rice said. "If we make the pursuit of global freedom the organizing principle of the 21st century, we will achieve historic global advances for justice and prosperity, for liberty and for peace."
The newly appointed U.S. secretary of state -- who is also an academic -- spoke in a setting well suited to highlighting her persuasive abilities. Addressing some 500 students and intellectuals in a lecture hall of the prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Institute of Political Studies in Paris), she struck a tone that was both professorial and political. And her speech was filled with references to the shared heritage of Europeans and Americans.
The speech was well received -- as was the fact she chose to deliver it in Paris. The French government has regularly accused Washington of acting "unilaterally" in its foreign policy and of neglecting the opinions of trans-Atlantic partners that did not support it.
Rice now says Washington is ready to end the feuding of the past four years, but how much of a new beginning can the two sides really make?
Guillaume Parmentier is director of the French Center on the United States at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (French Institute of International Relations) in Paris. He says French officials welcome an end to tensions that at one point saw U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dub European capitals that opposed Washington's Iraq policy as part of a regressive "old Europe," but those that supported it as part of a progressive "new Europe."
"She's being greeted warmly because she is a new face, she is a lady, her message was very open and warm, and there is a desire on the French part, as indeed on the American part, to let bygones be bygones." -- Guillaume Parmentier
"She's being greeted warmly because she is a new face [as U.S. secretary of state], she is a lady, her message was very open and warm, and there is a desire on the French part, as indeed on the American part, to let bygones be bygones," Parmentier says. "It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but we also certainly see on both sides that it would be impossible to let Iraq go down the drain because that would endanger the security of the whole region. So, clearly, there is now the need for a new departure."
But Parmentier says Paris will want to know whether Rice's talk is really intended to mark a new partnership or merely to cast continuing U.S. policies in a more favorable light.
Europeans are particularly likely to want to know more about U.S. strategy toward Tehran over the Iran nuclear crisis. The European powers are seeking to persuade Tehran to give up any nuclear weapons aspirations in exchange for trade concessions. Washington -- which for decades has sought to economically isolate Iran -- backs the initiative but is skeptical it will succeed.
Analysts say many European officials worry that the United States may be tempted to act unilaterally on Iran, as in Iraq, and would like to hear commitments it will not.
Still, Rice may have succeeded in at least partly convincing Europeans that the Bush administration hears their concerns, thanks to the timing of her speech.
Her Paris address came on the same day that Israeli and Palestinian leaders announced a cease-fire to bring an end to the Palestinian intifada and Israeli military activity that has left more than 4,000 people dead since September 2000.
Rice, who appeared in Paris almost immediately after visiting the Middle East, said she had urged Israel, as well as the Palestinians, to make tough concessions in pursuit of the accord.
The timing suggested that Washington is responding to long-standing European criticisms that the Bush administration has done little to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compared to the efforts of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Many Europeans see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as directly contributing to the growth of terrorist groups in the Muslim world that have targeted both the United States and Europe -- notably in Spain last year.
As Europeans now study the Rice speech and consider their response to it, they are also likely to spend considerable time deciphering what it means for commercial relations between the European Union and the United States.
Many Europeans have long felt that some in Washington regard the growing unity and economic power of the EU as creating a powerful -- and unwelcome -- global competitor.
Rice sought to allay those concerns by saying: "The United States, above all, welcomes the growing unity of Europe." She added: "America has everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner in building a safer and better world."
Daniel Keohane of the Center for European Reform in London says those are words that many in Europe -- including business leaders -- want to hear.
"I don’t see any reason why business leaders will object to this. I would think they would welcome it for a couple of reasons," Keohane says. "First of all, because it suggests that the bumpy ride we have had over the Atlantic for the past couple of years is coming to an end and that the U.S. is certainly, at least, throwing the gauntlet down to the Europeans to focus on cooperation and pragmatism, which is good for trans-Atlantic trade. And it's also good for global trade because, of course, it is the trans-Atlantic allies that are going to have to work very hard together to keep the global trade agenda on track."
Rice, who has also stopped in Britain, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, and Italy during her weeklong tour, will visit Belgium and Luxembourg before returning to the United States tomorrow.