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U.S.-Europe Relations Improving

U.S. President George Bush recently completed a trip to Europe that took him to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, the Vatican, France and Britain [from June 9 to June 16]. What is the state of relations between the United States and Europe?

This perhaps was President Bush's farewell trip to Europe -- seven months before the end of his eight years in office. Experts say relations between the United States and the European Union are better now than they were during the first four years of the Bush administration.

Charles Kupchan with the Council on Foreign Relations here in Washington says, "They've certainly made a substantial recovery from the low point of 2003-2004 when the fallout over the Iraq War led many to question whether the Atlantic partnership might be coming apart at the seams. We're certainly not back to where we were in the pre-Iraq War era, but certainly have made a significant comeback from the low point of 2003-2004."

Post-Iraq Ties

Most analysts say relations between Washington and Europe at that time were strictly defined by the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and its aftermath. European opposition to the invasion was led by then French President Jacques Chirac and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Public opinion surveys indicated that America's image in Europe reached an all-time low as Washington was seen as arrogant and dismissive of the views of its allies.

But then, as noted by William Drozdiak, President of the New York-based American Council on Germany, things changed. "There's no doubt that in the second term, the Bush administration realized it could no longer do things by itself -- that the unilateral approach was counterproductive, it was damaging America's image in the world. And so it had really no other choice but to reach out to its democratic allies in Europe," says Drozdiak.

And as Washington began to reach out to Europe, analysts say the political landscape changed there with the election of two much more pro-American leaders. Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded Jacques Chirac as French President and Angela Merkel took over as German Chancellor, replacing Gerhard Schroeder.

Charles Kupchan at the Council on Foreign Relations says the Iraq War is no longer the main issue between Europe and the United States. "The two sides have put Iraq not completely behind them, but pushed it to the side. And the Bush administration realizes that European members of the coalition are heading for the exits -- if they haven't left already. And the Europeans have stopped berating Washington for the war," says Kupchan. "And even though there remain fundamental differences of opinion about whether the war was the right thing to do, whether the occupation was handled well, I think that the view now is, 'Let's not let Iraq scuttle this relationship; let's try to isolate it and focus on the important common tasks that we have in Afghanistan, in Iran, in trying to promote democratization in Russia, in fighting climate change,' -- and the list goes on."

Putting Pressure on Iran

At every stop during his European trip, President Bush talked about Iran and ways to pressure Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program that could lead to the development of a nuclear bomb.

Michael Williams from the Royal United Services Institute in London says Europe and the U.S. agree on ways to deal with Iran.

"The overall approach is the same in that both Europe and the United States want to pursue a diplomatic option. You will notice, however, that all American leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- will often reiterate that all options are on the table, including the military option. This is something that, of course, the Europeans don't say," notes Williams. "But certainly at the moment, the hope is that through a combination of incentives and sanctions, that they would be able to pressure the Iranian regime. And, of course, the Europeans have the ability to talk directly to the Iranians -- something that the U.S. does not yet do on an official level."

Many analysts say a striking aspect of the American president's recent trip to Europe was the relative lack of anti-Bush demonstrations -- a typical scene during previous presidential visits. A German newspaper observed that Mr. Bush "isn't even popular as an enemy."

According to William Drozdiak of the American Council on Germany, "The hostility has been replaced by indifference because there is a realization in Europe that Bush is on his way out and people want to just move ahead. They hope to put the Bush presidency behind them."

U.S. Politics

Analysts say President Bush's trip came at a time of intense interest in Europe in the U.S. presidential campaign -- especially in the candidacy of Senator Barrack Obama, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.

Dominique Moisi with the French Institute of International Relations in Paris says Obama has captured the imagination of many Europeans. "His personality. The color of his skin. The fact that in some ways he is in himself the incarnation of what the Europeans want most to see America regain -- the sense of hope and the sense of dream. If someone incarnates the American dream by his very own personality, that is Barack Obama. And I suppose a majority of Europeans today want to see the return of the culture of hope in America," says Moisi.

Analyst Charles Kupchan says both Obama and the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, John McCain, want a vibrant U.S.-Europe relationship. "Should McCain be the next president, I think the Europeans would be somewhat less gleeful, but would nonetheless welcome an administration that they would see as more centrist, more forthcoming on climate change, more critical of the past policies on [suspected terror] detainees."

In other words, says Kupchan, a new Republican administration would be closer to Europe's views than the Bush administration has been.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.