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Europe joins united states domination plans { February 23 2004 }

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Copyright 2002 The International Herald Tribune |

News Analysis: Softly, Europe walks in parallel with U.S.
Alan Cowell NYT
Monday, February 23, 2004

A new alignment after Iraq divisions

LONDON Quietly and largely outside the limelight turned on U.S. fortunes in Iraq, European diplomats have been maneuvering in recent months to avert crises, cajole rogue leaders or urge reconciliation, from Iran and Syria to Libya and Cyprus. In these places, the Europeans are working in the same direction as the Americans, if not with the same tactics.

This is in marked contrast to a year ago, when Germany and France bitterly disputed the U.S. invasion of Iraq with British support. Last week, for example, Europeans were exerting a significant pull in the attempt by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to broker an effort to reunify Cyprus, long divided into Greek and Turkish sectors. Turkey wants to join the European Union (the island itself joins May 1), and the Union's members have made Turkish cooperation over Cyprus part of the price for Europe's good will.

In December, Britain helped the diplomacy that led Muammar el-Qaddafi to offer to rid Libya of outlawed weapons. There has been talk, too, of the Europeans' trying to persuade Syria to take similar steps in return for a trade deal, thereby easing some pressure it feels from 100,000 U.S. soldiers next door in Iraq.

And last October, the British, French and German foreign ministers struck a deal with Iran aimed at halting its covert nuclear weapons work and easing a confrontation between Iran and the United States. The Europeans offered a trade-off: agree to inspections and suspend uranium enrichment, in return for future access to civilian nuclear technology.

"Talk softly and carry a big carrot," was how a British diplomat defined his country's notion of "soft power."

That view was echoed by a European official in Brussels. "Although you can say that the real work is done by the hard cop," he said, "the soft cop has a role to play as well."

European diplomacy, nonetheless, often remains at odds with itself, because France, Germany and Britain still conduct separate foreign policies. The Big 3, in turn, are sometimes resented by other Europeans, as when Italy and Spain complained of being excluded when the British, French and German leaders met in Berlin last week on the coming enlargement of the European Union.

The emphasis on working together in ways that do not openly conflict with the United States seems driven in part by lessons from last year's passions over Iraq: the division Europe can afford has a limit.

"France and Germany have worked out that they cannot lead Europe's foreign and defense policy without British input," Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London research group, said. "And Tony Blair has worked out that he cannot fulfill British objectives in Europe without working with France and Germany."

That recognition is all the more urgent, because the European Union is about to expand to 25 members from 15. Some diplomats say that without some big-power leadership, the Union will bog down under its new weight and colliding visions of national interest.

Even as they strive for many of the same goals in the Middle East and elsewhere, Europe and the United States remain divided on a central calculation. For the Europeans, the region's problems will not be solved until the Palestinians and Israel are persuaded to make peace; the only power able to exert the required pressure is the United States, but the Bush administration does not seem to agree that everything else depends on settling the Arab-Israeli dispute first. Nevertheless, some diplomats say that even on this issue the gap is narrowing, and that Washington is now showing some interest in how Europeans might start new conversations among parties in the Middle East.

After a confrontation with Iran was averted, The Guardian, the British newspaper, exulted, "America wields only a big stick these days, but the old continent believes in a combination of little sticks and juicy carrots."

In the end, though, that strategy depends on a muscular United States looming offstage, and the Europeans seem to be coming a bit more to terms with that reality.

For all that, Europe's diplomacy remains diffuse. Javier Solana, the former NATO secretary general who is now the European Union's top foreign policy official, was not a party to the talks in Iran in October, meaning that the Europe beyond the troika of France, Germany and Britain felt excluded.

Britain's intervention in Libya, for instance, unfolded in concert with the United States, not with its European partners. France has always sought a preferred position as a former power in Lebanon and Syria, complicating the effort to pressure Syria. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has sought to take a lead in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, building on close ties to both sides. As for military cooperation in the European Union, France and Britain have dominated.

"This is a complicated story," the European official said, "and it does not go in a straight line."

The New York Times

Copyright 2002 The International Herald Tribune

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