Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just finished a trip to Europe to improve relations with traditional allies. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera discusses the Rice trip and provides a brief preview of President Bush's meetings with European leaders next week.
Condoleezza Rice's first trip abroad as secretary of state was to the Middle East and Europe. The Middle East part was to provide impetus to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and the European segment was to try to mend fences with the allies, especially France and Germany.
Europeans remember that 18 months ago, as national security adviser, Ms. Rice was widely quoted as saying the way to handle the three countries most opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to: Forgive Russia. Ignore Germany. Punish France.
It is in Paris, at the prestigious Institute of Political Studies (L'Institut d'Etudes Politiques - or Sciences-Po), that Ms. Rice last week (Feb. 8) delivered a major policy speech aimed at repairing strained relations.
"I am here in Europe so that we can talk about how America and Europe can use the power of our partnership to advance our ideals worldwide," she said. "President Bush will continue our conversation when he arrives in Europe on February 21st. He is determined to strengthen transatlantic ties. As the President said in his recent Inaugural Address: All that we seek to achieve in the world requires that America and Europe remain close partners."
Ms. Rice went on to say, "I believe that our greatest achievements are yet to come."
Experts on both sides of the Atlantic say it is about time the United States and Europe begin to work together to try to solve major international issues.
Charles Kupchan, director of European Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says relations between the two sides have been rapidly deteriorating.
"They have been on a steep, downward trajectory over the course of the last four years with the Iraq war and the difficulty in stabilizing Iraq, bringing it to a low point," he said. "Right now, there is a glimmer of hope that the relationship can be stabilized and then consolidated and that stems from a clear desire on behalf of the Bush administration to mend fences with Europe, coupled with a clear sign from the Europeans that they are prepared to reach out to Bush and meet him halfway."
Some Europeans make clear they want relations between the two sides to be a partnership and not simply an alliance with Washington in the driver's seat. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, responding to the Rice speech, said "alliance does not mean allegiance."
Bernard Cassen, managing editor of the influential French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, says what emerges from this new warming trend between the United States and Europe will color relations for years to come.
"The real issue is whether Europe is an independent entity, which is more the French view - an independent Europe which is a partner of the U.S. and a partner does not mean that you necessarily agree on all points; or Europe forms part of the sort of Atlantic entity led by the United States, which is more or less the British view. I think this question is not solved yet," said Bernard Cassen.
Experts say Condoleezza Rice was effective in beginning to mend fences with European governments, especially with France and Germany. But public opinion in those two countries still remains highly skeptical of U.S. foreign policy goals.
A survey released last week by the German Marshall Fund of the United States says that 62 percent of French respondents and 59 percent of Germans "Disapprove very much" of the way President Bush is handling international policies.
While analysts say Ms. Rice was successful in beginning the healing process between the United States and Europe, they say she did not provide new policy initiatives. Experts say the trip was full of symbolism, but lacked substance.
Bernhard May, an expert on the United States with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, hopes President Bush's trip to Europe will provide the necessary substance.
"I would like to see President Bush coming over here and doing pretty much the same [as] Condoleezza Rice did: coming over here well-prepared, friendly, nice, open-minded - but also making statements [about] what is possible and what is not possible, but not telling the Europeans what the Europeans did all wrong and what they have to do in the future. No. We need substance," said Bernhard May. "I think if it is only a trip with nice words and nice pictures, it will not be a real success. We have to have nice words. We have to have nice meetings. We have to have nice pictures. But we also have to have at the end some statements concerning substance."
President Bush first travels to Brussels for meetings with NATO officials and leaders of the European Union. He will have dinner with French President Jacques Chirac and travel to Germany for talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Mr. Bush will then go to Slovakia for a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.