Rice to woo Paris with talk of 'common goals'

7th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 8 (AFP) - America's top diplomat was plunging Tuesday into the heart of European opposition to the Iraq war with a major speech here urging the sceptical French to turn the page on transatlantic tensions.

PARIS, Feb 8 (AFP) - America's top diplomat was plunging Tuesday into the heart of European opposition to the Iraq war with a major speech here urging the sceptical French to turn the page on transatlantic tensions.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to address the National Foundation for Political Sciences and take questions as the centrepiece of an eight-nation tour of Europe aimed at mending bruised alliances.

The trip will lay the groundwork for President George W. Bush's European swing in two weeks. But if Rice hoped to ease strains over Iraq, she faced new friction over arms sales to China and Iran's suspected nuclear arms program.

Rice, Bush's former national security adviser who took over the helm of US foreign policy from Colin Powell last month, has received high media marks so far for her stops in Britain, Germany, Poland, Turkey and Italy.

She insists the successful January 30 elections in Iraq have created a new dynamic. "I think that what we're hearing from Europe is a desire to move on to the next chapter in the history of this great alliance," she said in Warsaw.

Making her first overseas trip as secretary of state, Rice was cheered by a warm welcome in staunch US allies Britain and Poland, and heartened by war critic Germany's pledge to extend its training of Iraqi police and military.

But a new poll released Monday in the United States suggested the Americans still had a way to go to win back European favour.

The survey, commissioned by the German Marshall Fund, found that 65 percent of French citizens and 57 percent of Germans said they did not want Washington to take a strong role in world affairs.

Rice, who interrupted her European travels for two days of Middle East diplomacy, was flying to Paris from Rome, where she had talks scheduled Tuesday with Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini and at the Vatican.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Rice's late-afternoon speech at the Latin Quarter university would focus on "her view of US-European relations, current policy and other things as we go forward."

"She wanted to do it in Paris because she felt Paris was one of the places where there's a lot of debate and discussion about the US, about Europe, about common goals, about how we achieve our agenda," he said.

Rice was to confer in the early evening with President Jacques Chirac, who will meet with Bush on February 21. A working dinner with Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was also on the agenda.

Her talks here will not lack for grist for familiar Franco-American feuds on a variety of issues, including the next steps in Iraq after the landmark elections for a national assembly.

Bernard Bajolet, France's ambassador to Iraq, called Monday for a timetable to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Bush says this would send the wrong signal and vows to bring the 150,000 US troops home when their job is done.

A row could also be brewing over prospects the European Union will soon lift its arms embargo slapped on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy students.

Washington strongly opposes scrapping the weapons ban, saying it could cloud the West's message to China on human rights and alter the strategic military equation between Beijing and Taiwan.

Another source of tension in Rice's talks could be the halting efforts by France, Britain and Germany to persuade Iran to renounce its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Some European officials have expressed impatience with Washington's failure to become more directly involved and are worried the Americans might be planning a pre-emptive military strike.

Rice sought to assuage such fears last week, saying in Britain that an attack against the Islamic Republic was "not on the agenda at this point." But she had little new to offer on the negotiations front.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article