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UN: Analysts See Modest Boost In Trans-Atlantic Ties After Meetings

  • Jeffrey Donovan

If Washington hoped to use this week's opening of the United Nations General Assembly to repair its relations with Europe, it only partly succeeded, according to analysts. While Germany appears set to turn the page on its past disagreements with Washington, France shows few signs of making peace with American policy.

Washington, 25 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Expectations for U.S. President George W. Bush's address at the United Nations General Assembly this week were that he might try to repair America's strained relations with Europe after the disagreements over the Iraq war.

Faced with growing criticism at home over the mounting costs in lives and dollars for the Iraqi reconstruction, Bush appealed to the UN delegates to assist the U.S. in Iraq: "Now, the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid and all nations of goodwill should step forward and provide that support."

But the speech did not offer much in the way of possible compromise with the main foes of the Iraq war, France and Germany.

Nonetheless, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac had very different messages about their relations with the United States following bilateral meetings with Bush yesterday.

Schroeder -- re-elected last year on an antiwar platform that criticized Bush -- held direct talks with the U.S. president for the first time in more than a year. Upbeat, Schroeder had nothing negative to say to reporters after the meeting.

"We talked about Iraq and, in fact, we have put the differences that were there behind us," Schroeder said. "We are both convinced that we should look forward, and I must say very clearly that Germany has a strong interest in obtaining a democratic and stable Iraq."

Bush also exuded optimism, saying he is ready to open a new chapter in relations with Germany. He thanked Berlin for its peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and for offering to train Iraqi police officers and soldiers.

Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a research group in Washington, had this stay about the apparent German-American rapprochement:

"The meeting between President Bush and Gerhard Schroeder was very successful by all accounts," he said. "And I believe that the Germans have demonstrated a willingness to cooperate on the Iraq question. I believe we'll see German support for a new United Nations resolution. We won't see Germany sending troops to Iraq, but we won't see the Germans standing in the way of U.S. efforts in the country."

Talks between Bush and Chirac, however, appeared not to have gone as smoothly.

Bush had been seeking support for a new U.S.-backed Security Council resolution that would give the UN's blessing to Iraq's U.S.-led occupation and thus make it easier for nations such as India and Turkey to contribute peacekeeping troops and others to contribute aid.

But Chirac continues to demand a swift handover of political power to the Iraqi people and a lead role for the UN in reconstructing Iraq as conditions for French support of a new resolution.

Radek Sikorski is a former deputy foreign minister and deputy defense minister of Poland. Now an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Sikorski says some in Washington believe France is actively seeking to thwart American policy.

"France has a strategic plan to use all available means to cut the 'hyperpower,' as they call [the U.S.], down to size, and to frustrate it, and to put America's freedom to act under international control. America is bridling at it and that produces inevitable friction."

Such friction has again cropped up in the U.S. media after an initial burst of anti-French sentiment before the war.

Columnist Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times," often considered a voice of moderation, recently wrote that by seeking to thwart U.S. interests, traditional ally France has virtually become an enemy of the United States. Friedman recalled the long tradition of Franco-American friendship and argued that a successful transition to democracy in Iraq was in France's best interest as well.

Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation basically agreed with the line that France has become an enemy, saying that on many foreign-policy issues these days, Paris and Washington do not agree.

"France is no longer viewed as an ally of the United States. It is viewed as a problem state on the international stage that tries to obstruct U.S. foreign policy at almost every single avenue. There are a few areas of cooperation, including efforts against Al-Qaeda, but on nine out of 10 key foreign-policy issues, Washington and Paris are fundamentally at odds."

To be sure, many say the fault for the deterioration in relations lies with the U.S. for pushing a war that some say flouted international law and was unpopular around the world.

Just as Bush extended no offer of compromise to France in his UN address, Chirac gave no ground on French policy.

In his address to the assembly, Chirac harshly criticized the Bush doctrine of "pre-emptive war" -- that the U.S. can preemptively attack countries deemed to have weapons of mass destruction before they can use those weapons. Bush used such reasoning to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Chirac was very clear in his opposition: "In an open world, no one can be isolated, no one can act alone in the name of all and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations."

Chirac, in a news conference, later insisted that despite the apparent willingness of Germany to help the U.S. in Iraq, Berlin and Paris still share the same approach. He said the two countries' policies on Iraq do not differ.

But former Polish official Sikorski disputes that view, saying Germany never really wanted to directly oppose Washington's policies. He says Germany was simply reacting to being rebuffed for so long by the Bush administration.

"I think Germany never wanted to be on that particular bandwagon [the antiwar stance] with France," he said. "But I think it's taken offense at the fact that the chancellor of Germany cannot get through to the White House. I think if we are talking Mr. Putin, who is conducting a genocidal war with Chechnya; if we are talking to satraps from Central Asia and the Middle East; then we should be talking to the largest democracy in Europe."

Bush will spend much of 26-27 September talking to Putin, whom he has invited for another bilateral summit, this one at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington.

Compared to the brief meetings Bush had with Schroeder and Chirac, Sikorski says this summit underscores a new irony in international affairs: America, at least in appearance, now enjoys warmer relations with Russia than with its NATO allies France and Germany.

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