Since winning reelection in November, U.S. President George W. Bush has made rebuilding ties with long-time European allies among his top foreign policy objectives. VOA's Jim Bertel reports with the first foreign trip of his second term, the president hopes to put past differences behind them and begin a new chapter in transatlantic relations.
It was an unmistakable gesture. President Bush, in his inaugural address last month, reaching out to European allies.
"We honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel and we depend on your help," said the president.
And so began the process of mending ties with European nations after two years of bitterly strained relations over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice furthered that effort earlier this month in France, when she outlined the administration's vision for a new transatlantic partnership.
"America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America. After all, history will surely judge us not by our old disagreements, but by our new achievements," she said.
The question being asked by many on both sides of the Atlantic is, "Where does the relationship go from here?"
"The Europeans would like to have a strong partnership with the United States, but a partnership that is a partnership of equals rather than one of leadership and followship," says Robin Niblett, Europe Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
For its part, the Bush administration would like to see that partnership include a larger European role in Iraq. John Hulsman, a European scholar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington says the Europeans, like the United States, cannot afford to see Iraq fail.
"I think the point now is that we say to the Europeans, look, nobody wants Iraq to fail. Whether you agree with what the Americans did or not, the reality is we're there. A failing Iraq would hurt Europe every bit as much as the United States, let's work together and make this thing work," he says.
While no one expects large troop commitments, Mr. Niblett says the Europeans can offer other assistance.
"They could help, especially in infrastructure development, but also in the infrastructure of government itself, training judges, training police, perhaps helping to write the constitution," he says.
Two other Middle Eastern issues loom large on this transatlantic agenda: The Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Since Palestinian elections in January, the Bush administration has expressed its desire to join with other nations in reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, a step applauded by European leaders.
On Iran's nuclear program, differences remain. Europeans are seeking a diplomatic solution while the Bush administration would like the matter referred to the U.N. Security Council. John Hulsman says a more coordinated approach is needed.
"So the Americans have to talk about diplomatic recognition, opening up trade, non-aggression pacts, that's all very difficult to discuss. And the Europeans have to talk about what happens if the Iranians continue to cheat, continue not to reach agreement, about interdiction, about sanctions, about referring the matter to the Security Council," says Mr. Hulsman.
European plans to lift the arms embargo on China will also be discussed.
But once these talks end, the spotlight will still shine, not on the quantity of individual issues resolved, but on the quality of the overall U.S.-European relationship. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, put it bluntly at last month's World Economic Forum.
"If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too," he said.
Mr. Niblett believes the Bush administration will heed that advice, having already learned "the cost of not bringing allies along with you."
"So I think we'll see a much more concerted effort to reach out and explain the U.S. position. To maybe even modulate it a bit to get the allies on board. And perhaps as Tony Blair pointed out, to take on some of the big issues that are not at the top of the U.S. priority list, but are on the international priority list," says Mr. Niblett.
After several turbulent years of policy divisions, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic hope the president's trip to Europe will set the stage for four years of closer cooperation. It will not be easy. But as one policy analyst told VOA, those who think the transatlantic relationship is at an end are writing it off prematurely.