Bush heads to Europe withnew mood in relations

16th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

16 February 2005, MAINZ/WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush heads to Europe and Germany this month amid signs he'll find himself in a somewhat friendlier environment than he would have several months ago.

16 February 2005

MAINZ/WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush heads to Europe and Germany this month amid signs he'll find himself in a somewhat friendlier environment than he would have several months ago. 

His visit comes amid signs he'll find himself in a somewhat friendlier environment than he would have several months ago.

While protesters are likely to greet the American president, Bush and his European counterparts have struck a more conciliatory tone lately, especially since the largely successful elections in Iraq.

Countries that opposed the war like Germany and France have agreed to play a more helpful role, and NATO has indicated it will do more to train Iraqi security forces, a key goal for the US exit strategy.

Those assurances came during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's eight-European nation tour that wrapped up 10 February. Rice expressed a desire to work with Europe and put differences over the Iraq war behind in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

During her return trip, Rice told reporters on her plane that she sensed an appetite within Europe to develop a common agenda and move forward.

"Everywhere, people were talking about the way forward," Rice said. "There really wasn't much discussion of what we've been through and really an acknowledgement that we've got a big agenda ahead of us."

"I think this sets up the president's trip pretty well," Rice said. "I think he's going to find a very constructive environment there."

Bush's 21-24 February trip takes him to Brussels for discussions with European Union and NATO leaders.

He is also scheduled to meet with French President Jacques Chirac, who along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder led international opposition to the war and sparked a deep rift in US relations.

Bush will then head to Mainz for a meeting with Schroeder, who has officially declared the discord in US-German relations a part of the past, and will greet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Schroeder and Chirac praised the Iraq elections as successful and a key step forward there.

Bush's visit in Mainz is part of a long tradition: In 1985, Ronald Reagan was a guest at Hambach castle, Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, visited Mainz in 1989. Bill Clinton visited lodgings for refugees from Kosovo and US airfields Ramstein and Spangdahlem in the Eiffel in 1999.

Even though the end of the Cold War meant steep reductions in troops - by 2003, more than 45,000 of the 69,000 US soldiers stationed there had left - Rhineland-Palatinate still plays a big role for the US in Europe: The US hospital in Landstuhl near Kaiserslautern is the biggest military hospital outside of the US and Ramstein, near Kaiserslautern, has been called the largest NATO airbase in Europe.

The region's well-established links to the US military played an important role in selecting the place of visit, said government spokesman Bela Anda.

Another plus for Mainz was its cosy atmosphere". Far fewer protests against Bush were expected there than in Berlin.

George Bush senior was said to have felt comfortable when he visited the capital of the state known as Rhineland-Palatinate. For the son's visit to Mainz, another factor played a role: His wife Laura's liking of books. Former teacher First Lady Laura Bush is determined on visiting the Gutenberg Museum.

"If we take seriously what the new American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said on her first visit to Europe, then we have reached a stage that makes a new beginning in trans-Atlantic relations possible," Schroeder told the German weekly Welt am Sonntag. "More binds us to the United States than divides us."

But there are still some difficult challenges. There is no end in sight to the insurgency in Iraq that has taken its toll on American forces, whose presence in the country has driven European animosity.

US officials are still trying to decipher a speech by the chancellor Saturday, when he expressed concerns that NATO appeared to no longer be the main body for forging trans-Atlantic ties.

The comments, read by Defence Minister Peter Struck at a security conference in Munich due to the chancellor's illness, were immediately seen by the United States as an effort to supplant NATO with the European Union's more independent foreign policy.

While both sides agree that Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, the United States has taken a tougher approach and has refused to join the negotiations that Britain, France and Germany have been conducting with Teheran.

The three countries are reluctant to grant US wishes to take Iran's nuclear programme to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Bush and his European counterparts differ on how to tackle global warming, and they support the International Criminal Court, a permanent UN body for prosecuting war crimes the United States opposes.

During her trip, Rice also raised concerns about a decision by the European Union to lift an arms embargo on China that was introduced following the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and she did not back off the US position in her meetings with EU officials.

"We'll keep working on it together with them and see if we can't work this one out," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said February 11. "Let me just put it that way. But we have not changed our position."

Despite the differences, US officials have emphasised common efforts in combating terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation and have praised NATO's role in Afghanistan. NATO recently announced it will expand that role.

But more than anything, a positive mood seems to have prevailed, and both sides want to end three years of tumultuous relations.

"I really did think that everybody was ready to try and turn a new page," Rice said of her trip. 


Subject: German news 

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