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U.S.: After Iraq Victory, Will Washington Seek To Repair Ties To Europe?

With victory in Iraq, should Washington be magnanimous or vindictive toward those countries that bitterly opposed its drive to war?

Washington, 11 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As Washington consolidates its military victory in Iraq, it still faces the challenge of repairing its frayed ties with Europe.

But as the run-up to the conflict showed, the postwar diplomacy may not prove as simple for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush as the lightning-fast, three-week military sweep across the Iraqi desert to topple Saddam Hussein from power appeared to be.

In Europe, the United States appears set to clash again with France, Germany, and Russia -- this time over the role of the United Nations in postwar Iraq. All three countries bitterly opposed America's drive to war and bid to get it sanctioned by the United Nations.

So far, Bush and his chief ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, say they intend to give the UN a "vital" role in Iraq. But that vague pledge, made after a summit earlier this week in Northern Ireland, failed to clarify their exact intentions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are due to discuss the postwar situation today in St. Petersburg.

Asked about that meeting and U.S. relations with Europe in general, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing yesterday: "There's a lot of work the international community can do together, whether it's done bilaterally or through organizations like the European Union and NATO, which was the focus of the Secretary's [of State Colin Powell] visit last week to Brussels."

Still, reports suggest that some in the Bush administration, perhaps triumphant over success in Iraq, may like to settle the score with countries that opposed the war.

Those reports pit the State Department -- which reportedly would like a wider UN role in Iraq and rapprochement with Paris, Berlin, and Moscow --- against the Pentagon, which favors strong U.S. control in Iraq and is against conceding too much to countries that obstructed U.S. interests.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- a key force behind the drive to topple Hussein -- was asked yesterday by the Senate Armed Services Committee what he felt should come out of the St. Petersburg summit. The former university professor pointed clearly to concessions on the part of all three participants. "I hope, for example, they'll think about the very large debts that come from money that was lent to the dictator [Saddam Hussein] to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of repression. I think they ought to consider whether it might not be appropriate to forgive some or all of that debt so that the new Iraqi government isn't burdened with it," Wolfowitz said.

Iraq owes Russia and France about $8 billion each, mostly for sales and contracts concluded in the 1980s, when Iraq was at war with neighboring Iran. The Soviet Union was the major supplier of arms to the Iraqi military at that time. Wolfowitz said that France would have to "pay some consequences" for its opposition to the U.S. invasion, especially for opposing NATO assistance to Turkey.

As Wolfowitz put it: "I agree the French have behaved in ways...that have been very damaging to NATO. I think France is going to pay some consequences, not just with us but with our countries who view it that way. But I don't think we want to make the Iraqi people the victims of that particular quarrel."

But some say that Washington, after its victory, has the power to be magnanimous with those that opposed its Iraq policy. Moreover, as analyst Robert Kagan argued in "The Washington Post" this week, such an approach would be in America's interest.

Kagan, considered a leading U.S. hawk, said America would win over skeptical Europeans much more through an effort to persuade them of its case, rather than by punishing them. For example, he said there are signs that Germany is eager to rebuild relations with Washington, and rebuffing it would only drive Berlin further into the arms of France.

As for Paris, Kagan says, "It won't be possible to do much business with France so long as the Chirac government continues to present itself as the builder of a great counterweight to the United States."

But Kagan says Bush, out of clear political interest, should overlook Russia's arms sales to Iraq and resume his formerly warm ties with President Vladimir Putin. Likewise, he also says it would be against U.S. interests to punish Turkey, a NATO ally and the only Muslim democracy, for its refusal to let American soldiers use its bases.

Ted Galen Carpenter largely agrees. An analyst with Washington's Cato Institute think tank, Carpenter made this observation to RFE/RL: "With regard to the European allies, I would hope that the United States does not adopt a punitive approach. If the Bush administration wants to settle old scores with regard to Iraq policy, the divisions that emerged over this issue will persist and intensify. I think the key European allies are willing to try to repair much of the damage, but the initiative is going to have to come from Washington."

Of course, not everyone agrees. Leon Feurth was national security adviser for former Vice President Al Gore. Feurth told RFE/RL: "I'm not sure magnanimity is what's needed here. It could be a dose of reality and consequences."

Feurth, now with George Washington University, said it's "asking rather a lot" for the U.S. to give Paris, Berlin, and Moscow "a slice of the action" in Iraq, given their obstruction and the human and financial cost borne by Washington and London in the Iraq campaign.

Moreover, Feurth added, it will be important to see the direction of French foreign policy after the war -- whether or not Paris will "get out of the way" at the United Nations or continue to regard anything the Security Council backs as a "left-handed acknowledgement" of U.S. preeminence. "If they take that position, then the organization will continue to be paralyzed and bypassed -- and the responsibility will be in Paris, not in Washington," Feurth said.

Rather than being magnanimous or punitive, Feurth believes the Bush administration should find a compromise that doesn't reward obstruction but avoids vindictiveness. "They'll have to find out where that position is," he concluded.