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Europe Eager to Reach Out to Bush, But Differences Remain

When President Bush arrives Sunday night in Brussels, the self-proclaimed capital of Europe, he will find European leaders eager to repair trans-Atlantic ties, frayed by the Iraq War. But, substantive policy differences remain, and are not likely to be overcome as the result of one fence-mending trip.

Since President Bush's re-election, European leaders have come to terms with the fact that they will have to deal with him for four more years. And, just as Mr. Bush has reached out to them, they, too, have indicated that they are prepared to reach out to him.

The Europeans have publicly welcomed the change of tone on the U.S. side, and the symbolism of Mr. Bush choosing to make Europe the destination of his second term's first foreign trip. One top European Union official says he thinks Mr. Bush is now willing to treat European governments as independent allies, who deserve to have their say, as the two sides rebuild their partnership.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the Portuguese head of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, says Europe and the United States can only hope to resolve global crises, if they act together. So, how, he was asked, do you get them to do so.

"It's the political will," said Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. "If there is a real political will on both sides to avoid stereotypes, to avoid prejudices, to understand from a rational point of view that what is at stake is very important. The world can only be a better place, if the United States and Europe cooperate."

European governments are skeptical about Mr. Bush's strategy to radically transform the Middle East. European diplomats say the Euro-Atlantic partnership can only get back on its feet when compromises can be reached issue-by-issue. And there are a lot of issues on which Washington and its allies are still divided.

Charles Grant, who heads the Center for European Reform, a research institute in London, says the most pressing of all of these issues is what to do about Iran's nuclear program.

"The Americans admit they don't really have a policy of their own on how to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons," said Charles Grant. "The Europeans have a policy, which is to offer trade and aid and political dialogue, in return for Iran abandoning its uranium enrichment. But the Europeans also believe that their strategy will have more clout with the Iranians, if America backs it, too. At the moment, it's not clear if America is really supporting the European strategy. It's saying 'OK, go ahead, see if it works,' but they're not really giving us wholehearted support."

U.S. officials say Iran has broken its nuclear commitments in the past, and that it also supports terrorism and denies Israel's right to exist. So, they say, the Bush administration will not be a part of any program aimed at rewarding Iran. The Europeans say that, without U.S. backing, their efforts at engaging Iran on its nuclear program could founder. They are also worried about what they see as Washington's confrontational approach toward the Islamic Republic.

The Europeans have welcomed a stepped-up U.S. effort to become more involved in peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians. That is an issue they see as crucial, not only to improving relations with the Arab world, but also one they consider a key test of the budding trans-Atlantic rapprochement.

And the recent elections in Iraq, while not changing the widespread European view that the war was wrong, has, as Mr. Grant says, made European governments more willing to lend assistance to the country.

"I think everybody in Europe is very happy that the Iraqi elections were fairly successful, and I think what Bush can expect to hear is more French and German and other European support for the training of Iraqi security forces, more support for debt forgiveness on economic aid for Iraq," he said. "I think the better mood music will be conducive to much more European support on Iraq."

Indeed, the European Union is expected to announce Monday that it will set up a program to train Iraqi judges, prosecutors and criminal investigators outside Iraq.

NATO, too, is expected to announce at its summit on Tuesday that all 26 allies have finally agreed to contribute to the alliance's modest mission to train senior Iraqi officers.

Other issues continue to divide America from its allies, like the EU's imminent lifting of its arms embargo on China, which Washington fears could threaten U.S. security interests in Asia. And then there are such issues as global warming and the international criminal court that are on Europe's priority list, but not on America's.

While Europe's leaders appear eager to repair the strained relationship with the United States, the European public remains largely hostile toward Mr. Bush, and skeptical of his intentions.

Brussels police are bracing for protests from a coalition of environmental, human rights and peace groups, and have mounted an unprecedented security operation. Several streets and avenues will be cordoned off, and public transportation will be limited.