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U.S.: Trans-Atlantic Ties Under Scrutiny As Powell Flies To Paris

  • Jeffrey Donovan

With U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell set for meetings in Paris today and tomorrow, America's relations with France and Germany appear to be improving after the fallout over Iraq. But potential divisions remain in the trans-Atlantic relationship, as RFE/RL reports.

Washington, 22 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- So sour are U.S. relations with France that the White House has had to dismiss reports that President George W. Bush might sleep in Switzerland when he attends a G-8 summit next week in the French Alps.

Asked on 20 May if Bush might lodge on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva during the Evian summit of the world's major industrial nations, Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer told a briefing in less-than-perfect French: "He will stay 'dans une chambre a la France.' He will stay in France. He will stay in his room in France."

The comments by Fleischer, who would not confirm that Bush will hold direct talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Evian, were hardly a confirmation of Franco-American rapprochement. France and Germany fell out with the U.S. after opposing the American-led war in Iraq.

But analysts generally agree that all three countries are trying to mend their once-close relations. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to make such an effort when he meets with fellow G-8 foreign ministers on Thursday and Friday in Paris to prepare for next week's summit in Evian.

Powell and other U.S. officials have said France may face unspecified consequences for its obstruction on Iraq. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing yesterday that the meeting in Paris this week could help heal the trans-Atlantic rift.

Ted Galen Carpenter of Washington's Cato Institute put it this way for RFE/RL: "Both sides are trying to repair the relationship, and I suspect that they will continue efforts in that direction. The U.S. does not want a permanent split with some of its most prominent NATO allies, so it really is in Washington's interest not to engage in petty retaliation against France and Germany."

In a sign that relations may be on the mend, France, Germany, and Russia yesterday said they would back the latest draft of a U.S.-proposed resolution lifting United Nations sanctions on Iraq. The UN Security Council is expected to vote on the issue today.

Meanwhile, Germany today made a strong pro-American gesture. Unveiling its first new military strategy in 11 years, Germany called for stronger European defense capabilities but also said Washington remains "indispensable" for Europe's security. The new strategy appears to be a middle course between recognition of U.S. power and Europe's French-led quest for more military muscle.

Yet Carpenter and other analysts warn that certain divisions in the trans-Atlantic relationship may be difficult to bridge, both because of sharp differences between the Bush administration and European governments and the new geopolitical landscape.

The main topics of next week's summit are themselves often bitter sources of contention between Washington and Europe. Besides Iraq and its reconstruction, the summit is expected to focus on the "road map" to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the war on terror, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

On all those issues and others, Carpenter said America and Europe remain largely divided. "Such issues as how to deal with Iran, where the Europeans favor a policy of maximum engagement and the U.S. favors a policy of trying to isolate Iran and adopt a more confrontational strategy. Or the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where the Europeans regard the U.S. as slavishly pro-Israel and Americans detect a whiff of anti-Semitism in the Europeans' sympathy for the Palestinian cause," he said.

These divisions on particular issues are part of a larger disagreement, said Jackson Janes, executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington.

Janes told RFE/RL that many Europeans disagree with the Bush administration's emphasis on building -- on its terms -- a new global security framework to meet new threats after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

A key component of the new framework is the idea of preemptive military strikes, such as that launched against Iraq. Confrontation is also an important foreign policy ingredient, and has been used variously with Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

After challenging governments across Europe to support the U.S. on Iraq, Janes said that the White House is now judging governments in terms of willingness to comply with other U.S. policy priorities. Those nations that are less than committed to the U.S. cause may suffer from "consequences" from Washington.

For now, Janes suggested that Washington is seeking to warm up its ties to Germany, perhaps at the expense of France. He said that Washington will emphasize key issues with Germany that affect its interests, such as the economy, international trade rules, and the war on terror. "I think there's going to be selective engagement with Germany, possibly with the intention of moving Europe in the direction that the United States would like to see it go," he said. "To some extent, the question is: What will that mean in terms of the relationship with France, between Germany and France?"

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently said he doesn't want to have to choose between France and the United States. But on issues that divide Paris and Washington, Germany will again be forced to pick sides, Janes said.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have balanced their meetings with officials of Schroeder's center-left government by holding talks with members of the relatively pro-American Christian Democrats (CDU).

For example, Powell held a slightly longer meeting in Berlin last week with CDU leader Angela Merkel than he did with Schroeder. Similarly, a CDU parliamentarian visiting the White House recently received a "chance" 15-minute meeting from Bush, all of which was conveniently photographed and broadcast for the German press.

Janes said courting the opposition is nothing new if you're displeased with people in office. But in this case, he said, Washington appears eager to point out that there are many different voices in Europe, not just those who oppose American policy.

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