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Bush ends transatlantic dispute farce

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Transatlantic ties on mend, albeit timidly, one year into Bush's second term
Jan 19 10:28 AM US/Eastern

One year after President George W. Bush set out in his second term to repair relations with Europe badly frayed by the Iraq war, his administration is winning timid praise for succeeding, at least diplomatically, on that front.

Though some of the damage cannot be undone and Bush remains widely unpopular among European publics, analysts say he has nonetheless managed to re-establish a certain level of harmony with leaders across the Atlantic.

"2006 will really be the test of whether the positive atmospherics of 2005 can actually be translated into concrete policies," Robin Niblett, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, told AFP.

He said the key issue that will determine whether the new entente is genuine is the current dispute with Iran over its nuclear program and Washington's willingness to work through the crisis with its European allies.

"I think Iran has been the success story for the US being pragmatic and treating Europe as a partner in transatlantic relations rather than playing the leadership role which it expects Europe to follow," Niblett said.

"However in 2006, we'll see whether that partnership can be sustained as we get into the actual implementation of policies to influence Iran."

Another dossier being touted as a success story is cooperation between the United States and France -- one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war -- on Syria's involvement in Lebanon.

Last week's visit to Washington by Germany's new chancellor Angela Merkel is also hailed as a positive step in reviving transatlantic ties.

"The long and short of it is that when Bush was reelected he realized he had alienated our friends in Europe and that many of the costs of engaging abroad were just too large for the US to carry alone," said Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

But despite all the public posturing about the renewed friendship, experts say the Bush administration's new style and tone is not likely to roll back the clocks.

"The trust Europeans, and the rest of the world in general, had placed in America's foreign policy is gone," Daalder said. "And it is the lack of trust that now marks relations between the US and Europe."

Daniel Hamilton, head of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, said even eastern European countries that traditionally backed the US were becoming more skeptical of Washington's justifications for its war on terror.

"There is still a question across Europe of 'do you sacrifice your values for tactical advantages ... or do you understand there are some basic principles you have to uphold even though you may be less effective?'" he said.

The divide on such issues as torture and the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay was highlighted during Rice's recent visit to Europe, when she had to field a storm of public outrage over reports that the CIA was operating secret prisons on the continent for terror suspects.

"When a secretary of state has to spend a week in Europe convincing the publics and the governments that the United States does not torture, you know that the relationship is kind of different than when a president was able to go to Berlin and say 'Ich bin ein Berliner'," Daalder said.

He was referring to the late president John F. Kennedy's visit to west Berlin in 1963 during which he proclaimed in German "I am a Berliner."

Copyright AFP 2005

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