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G8 Summit Will Provide Opportunity to Mend Strained Relations - 2003-05-22


On June 1 the annual summit of the world's leading industrialized nations will begin in the French Alpine resort of Evian. Some analysts say the meeting of world leaders will be an opportunity for President Bush to repair relations with major European countries that opposed the U.S. war against Iraq. Others argue, however, that trans-Atlantic relations are so seriously strained that they may have changed forever.

U.S. State Department officials are hoping the summit with leaders from the world's seven leading industrialized nations and Russia will help ease the tensions between allies in the war against Iraq and countries that opposed military action.

Others are predicting the annual meeting of the G8 leaders could be the most difficult in years.

Lael Brainard served as the deputy assistant to the president for International Economics in the Clinton administration.

Ms. Brainard says she cannot remember a G8 summit where there were such strained relations among the major participants.

"Going into the Evian summit I think the question is whether the key protagonists, President Bush, President Chirac and others see this as a key opportunity to repair a badly frayed trans-Atlantic alliance or, more likely, as a kind of badly timed pain in the you-know-what," she said.

Ivo Daalder, a former director for European Affairs on the National Security Council, is currently a specialist in foreign policy studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Mr. Daalder says the divide between the United States and Europe is so deep that the relationship forged after World War II has permanently changed.

"How far can the divide go? Very far. It is already very deep," he said. "But it can go much further and I think actually it will go much further. We have reached the point in which the relationship that we have had for the past 50-plus years is - we are not going to go back to that. We are not going to go back to the notion that American foreign policy is mediated through a trans-Atlantic lens."

Mr. Daalder says there is a perception among many Europeans that the Bush administration welcomes the differences within the European community on the war in Iraq and how to best reconstruct the country following the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime.

He says the Bush administration wants to send a strong message that there is a "price to pay" for defying the United States on the world stage.

"There is a perception in Europe that the deep wounds that have emerged as a result of the Iraq war, many of them by the way very much self-inflicted, that is the division that is now in Europe, that that is something the United States in fact at this point welcomes," he said. "That the United States is willing to put the knife in that wound and start shifting back and forth a little bit in order to make it bleed a little more, in order for Europe to start falling apart even more, so that in fact you can pick and choose your allies when it is necessary, when the demand of the moment requires it."

Martin Indyk is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and is currently the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.

Mr. Indyk says the vote by Russia, France and Germany in the U.N. Security Council to support a U.S. sponsored resolution lifting economic sanctions against Iraq is likely to improve the atmosphere at the G8 summit.

"I think there is a dawning recognition in Washington that we are going to need the help of friends and the G8 participants are a good place to look for that kind of help," he said. "Of course the French, the Germans and Russians have a desire to be part of that post-war reconstruction effort, not, I think, to take on the job of policing Baghdad, but certainly happy to participate in the reconstruction if it means contracts for their corporations."

Leaders at the G8 summit are expected to focus on a variety of issues such as rebuilding Iraq, the sluggish world economy and the fight against global terrorism.

Many analysts will be closely watching the body language of those leaders as President Bush meets many of them for the first time since the war in Iraq.

They say the Atlantic Alliance is now at a crossroads, and the future of the relationship is very much in doubt.

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