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Home >> World
UPDATED: 13:23, February 21, 2005
Bush aims to mend fences on European trip
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US President George W. Bush, who begins a trip to Europe on Sunday, is clearly aimed at mending fences with Washington's transatlantic allies as he is expected to meet French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russia President Vladimir Putin who were strongly opposed to his war on Iraq in 2003.

"My trip to Europe is to seize the moment and invigorate a relationship that is a vital relationship for our own security, as well as for the long-term peace in the world," Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

Following his re-election in November, Bush promptly declared that one priority was to bury hatchet with Europe, especially with France, Germany and Russia.

On Dec. 3, Bush asked US Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to deliver a letter to the new European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, calling for stronger ties with the European Union (EU) and hoping for cooperation on key international issues such as Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.

Moreover, according to a Washington Times report on Feb. 4, the White House has been meeting quietly with European ambassadors to Washington each week since October in an effort to include key allies in policy deliberations and the ambassadors of Britain, France and Germany were frequent participants.

Although it is too early to tell whether the views expressed at those meetings will be taken into account in decision making of the Bush administration, European officials agree that the gatherings signal a "change of style" of the White House in its dealing with them, the report said.

The Bush administration has been extending olive branches to Europe in order to repair the transatlantic alliance and seek European support on key international issues as its unilateral policy has suffered setbacks and encountered serious problems.

On the Iraq issue, the United States has been facing a persistent insurgency as nearly 1,500 US soldiers have been killed and over 10,000 injured.

Washington desperately needs support of European allies to speed up the training for Iraqi security forces so that they can take over security responsibilities.

To secure European support and pave the way for Bush's visit, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Britain, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Italy, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as Israel and the West Bank.

The efforts appeared to have achieved some success as Rice, at a lunch with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) envoys in Brussels, said there were "a number of countries that immediately agreed to contribute and a number of others that said they intended to contribute."

Most markedly, France and Germany have committed to training 1,500 Iraqi security or police forces each. This was in sharp contrast with the nasty picture last November when France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg, in an unprecedented departure from NATO practice, refused to allow their officers to join the mission and help train Iraqi security forces.

Nonetheless, differences over the NATO mission remain as US Gen. James Jones, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, admitted on Feb. 12 that a planned NATO military academy near Baghdad is unlikely to be operational before September due to European allies' reluctance to offer staff and funds.

On Iran's nuclear issue, Rice said in Europe that a US attack was "simply not on the agenda" for now to allay worries that the Bush administration might soon launch military strikes against Tehran.

In recent public statements, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top foreign policy officials had lambasted Iran and indicated that the administration intended to take more robust action during Bush's second term.

Some of their statements left open the possibility of military action or an attempt to topple the country's government.

The United States has accused Iran of developing a uranium enrichment program intended for nuclear weapons, while Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for civil purposes only.

Britain, France and Germany have tried to resolve Iran's nuclear issue through diplomacy. However, the United States has said it won't join Europe in talks with Iran, signaling a continued hard-line policy toward Iran in Bush's second term.

In addition to Iraq and Iran, the two sides are at loggerheads over many other major international issues.

The Kyoto Protocol, supported by Europe to reduce global warming, entered into effect on Feb. 16 despite Washington's withdrawal, and the EU remains a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, which the Bush administration refuses to join.

The EU favors lifting its arms embargo against China, despite the Bush administration's strong opposition.

All these show that there remain major policy differences between the United States and Europe and it is yet to be seen whether Bush will be able to make any substantial breakthroughs in his European tour.

Source: Xinhua

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