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US, EU Agree Rift over Iraq is Healing - 2003-12-17

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, standing in for the hospitalized Secretary of State Colin Powell, discussed the situation in Iraq Wednesday, with European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana. Both said the trans-Atlantic rift over U.S.-led military action in Iraq is on the mend.

Mr. Armitage says the healing process over Iraq began earlier this month with West European visits by Secretary of State Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and says it is being further advanced by former Secretary of State James Baker and his European mission for Iraqi debt relief.

At a joint press appearance with Mr. Solana, Mr. Armitage said the capture of Saddam Hussein late last week may provide a turning point for the United States and its allies to set aside past differences and focus on Iraq's future.

"We did have, one would have to admit, some neuralgic discussions surrounding the question of Iraq and our activities there," said Mr. Armitage. "But Secretary Powell and the president of the United States have been keen for some time to put that behind us and move forward, and we're attempting to do that. And I think the capture recently of Saddam Hussein is a perfect opportunity for us to pivot a bit, and really let the past be the past and move forward to a much better trans-Atlantic future."

Mr. Solana, for his part, made clear his view that the Bush administration erred in excluding major U.S. European allies from Iraq reconstruction contracts, even as it was dispatching Mr. Baker to solicit their support on reducing Iraq's crushing debt.

However, he said the Baker mission, which has netted debt-relief commitments from France and Germany, does appear to be furthering the process of reconciliation among the traditional allies.

"The visit of Jim Baker has been constructive and positive and well-received from all the reports you get from capitals in Europe and the reports you get from him, from Jim Baker," said Mr. Solana. "Both are constructive and positive. And no doubt that he's going to contribute to working together between the Europeans and the United States. I think we have to look forward and not look to the past, and look to the present and to the future, and this is what we're trying to do."

Mr. Armitage, running day-to-day affairs at the State Department in the absence of Mr. Powell, said the Secretary is recovering "at a good speed" from his prostate cancer surgery Monday and had telephoned him at daybreak to discuss policy matters.

Officials say Mr. Powell, due for release from Washington's Walter Reed Army Hospital in the next day or two, had his first telephone talk with a foreign colleague since his operation, calling Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.