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Bush European Trip Mends Fences but Differences Remain

President George Bush ended a trip to Europe at the end of Feburary, his first overseas visit since his re-election. His trip followed that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the Bush administration works to mend fences with European governments.

President Bush's trip was aimed at repairing transatlantic relations strained by disagreements over the Iraq war. Three countries, France, Germany and Russia, were strongly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And Europeans remember that 18 months ago, as National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice was widely quoted as saying that the best way to deal with those three countries was to: Forgive Russia. Ignore Germany. Punish France.

During a speech in Brussels on February 21, home of NATO and the European Union, President Bush made clear it is time to put differences aside.

"Our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us," he said.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic say the Bush administration and European governments have decided to put aside their disagreements over Iraq.

Timothy Garton Ash, European expert at St. John's College, Oxford University, says both sides believe they have a stake in the future of Iraq.

"It is very striking that among the governments, notably of France and Germany, there is a real effort to put the issue of Iraq behind them," he said. "And I don't think that anything that we do in Iraq now is going to be a major source of conflict across the Atlantic."

For his part, Radek Sikorski, a former Polish deputy foreign minister and an expert on Europe with the American Enterprise Institute, says the transatlantic alliance works better when both sides cooperate.

"Many Europeans want to 'make up' and I think the 'Bush II' [Bush's second administration] team has decided that the spat with Europe has cost too much," he said. "Look at the three countries where the U.S. has been active in: Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq. Well, in the two where we had U.S.-European cooperation, in Afghanistan and Ukraine, we've had success at a much lower cost than in the third one, Iraq."

While President Bush's trip to Europe appears to have brought the two sides closer together, the U.S. leader continues to be very unpopular with the European public.

A survey recently released 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 affairs.

 

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