On February 20, US President George W. Bush flew to Brussels, beginning his first visit after re-election. Bush set his first visit to Europe during his second term of administration is based mainly on the following two considerations: First is to repair US trans-Atlantic relations seriously damaged by its war in Iraq, second is to search for support from its traditional European allies on international and regional issues.
To this end, Bush's cabinet has made thorough plans and thoughtful arrangements, carrying out a series of actions showing friendships for Europe.
First of all, Bush and Rice openly indicated on many occasions that restoring ties with Europe was the primary task of US foreign policy. After his re-election Bush promised in his inaugural speech that he would "treasure friendship with European allies and respect their opinions". Rice stressed at a Senate hearing that she hoped to conduct real "dialogs" with European allies, refraining from the practice of "what one says counts".
Secondly, before Bush's visit, Rice paid "cyclonic" visits to Britain, Germany and France in early February to create a favorable atmosphere for Bush's European tour. In view of France's loudest voice against the United States on the issue of the Iraq war, Rice specially chose Paris as the place for delivering her only speech during her trip, expressing US wishes to repair relations. She appealed that the United States and Europe transcend differences, forget past grievances and write new chapters on trans-Atlantic relations. In view of the doubts and misgivings of European countries, Rice emphasized that the United Nations remains the decision-making body on major world affairs and indicated that the United States would continue to support the European alliance and was willing to see the emergence of a powerful European Union.
Bush's European trip signals an upsurge in the series of America's European diplomatic activities. Bush's activities in Europe were also meticulously arranged. His multilateral activities included his respective meetings with heads of NATO countries and EU member states in Brussels, while his bilateral activities included his separate dinner party with French President Jacques Chirac, as well as his meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovak. In his theme speech delivered in Brussels, Bush used the word "allies" as many as 12 times.
Bush's "diplomacy of restoration" did work in a certain sense. Although the public voices of protest kept lingering in the ears wherever Bush went, leaders of various European countries adopted a welcoming attitude toward Bush's "rare courtesy" as expressed in his wording. On the first day after Bush's arrival in Brussels, foreign ministers of 25 EU countries unanimously decided that the EU would, in principle, increase support for Iraq's reconstruction, as an active response to Bush's European tour.
Superficially, great change has indeed taken place in the atmosphere of Europe-US relations. What's more, most Europeans seem do not doubt about Bush's sincerity in seeking for European support. A famous British critic points out that the Iraq war has brought home to the Americans that although the United States is an indispensable country, this does not mean that it could conquer the world on its own. However, in Europe, nobody, whether politicians or the general public, believes that there would be fundamental change in the Bush administration's foreign policy during its second term. The Iran issue is widely held as one of indicative significance, although Bush expressed his support of the diplomatic efforts of Britain, France and Germany, he insists that the possibility of military attack on Iran will not be ruled out. Some analysts maintain that the difference between the US and Europe on the Iran issue is not divergence of means only, because what Europe hopes is for Iran to give up the development of nuclear weapons, whereas what the United States pursues is a "change in government". In addition, differences still exist between the US and Europe over the questions, such as the "Kyoto Protocol" and the international criminal court. In essence, the United States refuses to be restrained by a mechanism of multilateralism, while this is precisely what Europe energetically advocates and unremittingly pursues. Apparently, as long as US foreign policy remains unchanged, Europe-US contradictions will continue to exist, and the two purposes of Bush's European tour are hard to be realized.
Published on the front page of People's Daily (Overseas Edition) on February 23, this commentary is translated by People's Daily Online.