United States repairing relations with Europe
By Martin Walker
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has proposed forming a high-level contact group with the Europeans to discuss sensitive policy issues in advance to avoid the kind of trans-Atlantic clash that split the alliance about Iraq, UPI has learned.
The proposal, floated so far with German and British diplomats, is part of a process of making up with Europe that will feature Secretary of State Colin L Powell’s meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on a trip to Berlin this month.
Administration officials also hope they can share the security and peacekeeping mission in Iraq with the NATO alliance as a way to internationalize the US-British presence in Iraq without bringing in the United Nations.
France has signalled its readiness to countenance such a NATO mission, and American diplomats see this approach as an important way to repair the damage done to trans-Atlantic links by the arguments about Iraq at the United Nations and NATO.
Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met on Saturday in Greece, where they agreed to draft the bloc’s first common European security strategy in a bid to avoid damaging diplomatic rifts such as the Iraq crisis.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou announced the plan after ministers from 25 current and future member states debated European defence and strained trans-Atlantic relations aboard a luxury cruise yacht moored on the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
The ministers mandated that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana produce a first draft before a summit in Greece in mid-June, as well as a proposal for closer European defence integration and on EU cooperation with NATO’s planned rapid-reaction force.
The State Department proposal for the high-level contact group coincides with a hint of diplomatic regret that the European allies were not warned of the policy of pre-emptive strikes against rogue regimes with weapons of mass destruction and terrorist links, spelled out in the Bush administration’s National Security Policy statement in September.
“The Bush administration could have had a very different reaction to the National Security paper if the question had been put to Chirac and Schroeder before its publication: ‘How do we defend ourselves in a new world of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,’ “ Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Washington said Monday. Jacques Chirac is the French president.
“The underlying problem to the crisis was that we in the trans-Atlantic community have not done a good job together in creating common understanding on joint strategic interests and concerns. There was no joint strategic vision, as we had during the Cold War,” Mr Ischinger added. “Most, if not all, Europeans have absolutely no problem with accepting US leadership — we have accepted it for 50 years — but please give us enlightened leadership.”
Mr Ischinger spoke at a forum on the future of US-European relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. In the audience — with US diplomats, officials and academics — was former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, in Washington for the inauguration of an SAIS professorship named for him.
Remarks at the forum from senior US officials suggested that the Americans were also keen to move on from the arguments about Iraq and rebuild trans-Atlantic relations.
“There are a lot of broken eggs, but we can work together to make an omelet out of this: building a democratic Iraq,” said James Dobbins, former US ambassador to the European Union and the US coordinator for Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Mr Dobbins is now director of the International Security Center at the Rand Corp. and suggested that the damage to trans-Atlantic relations had been severe but could be fixed.
He did not share the view that Europe and the United States were bound to drift apart after the Cold War nor that the September 11 attacks marked a deep rift in their security concerns, Mr Dobbins said. He suggested that some random events, such as the publication of the US national security paper during the German election campaign last year and an isolated German chancellor’s subsequent turn to France, played important roles in the crisis and could be overcome.
“Building a democratic Iraq is possible but will take more time and effort than is currently acknowledged, so we must broaden participation in the effort as rapidly and comprehensively as possible,” Mr Dobbins said.
“The question of the UN in Iraq is less important than whether NATO should be given a substantial role,” he said, “and the willingness of the French government to accept that is an opening we ought to exploit.”
Mr Dobbins warned against any US attempt to play a divide-and-rule strategy, working with reliable allies, such as the British and new NATO members from Eastern Europe, against the French and German governments that led the opposition to the war on Iraq.
A diplomatic window of opportunity is opening to repair the trans-Atlantic rift in the month before President Bush flies to France for the Group of Eight summit, opening June 1 at Evian, France, and to Russia for the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg.
Mr Powell will travel to Berlin; Moscow; Tbilisi, Georgia; and Sofia, Bulgaria, after receiving Mr Bush’s support for his proposal to repair relations with Germany.
Mr Bush has yet to approve a similar warming with France, whose president threatened to veto any proposal at the United Nations for a war on Iraq, but the idea of a high-level contact group to defuse crises before they start is likely to attract widespread support.
The German chancellor is understood to have made three advance proposals as his own contribution to getting relations back to normal.
Germany is prepared to help financially and with human resources in the rebuilding of Iraq. Germany will also back a NATO role in Iraq. And Mr Schroeder will make it publicly clear that the European Union, even with its own defence force, is not intended to set up a challenge or counterweight to the United States.
This third point is important because France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium met Tuesday in Brussels to discuss starting their own defence group, with a common army. That plan could fulfill the long-standing French strategy of replacing the US-led NATO alliance with a separate European force.
For Germany to abandon that French project would be a major strategic success for the United States. Repairing relations with France, however, will be much tougher, despite French readiness to accept a NATO role in Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Mr Chirac on Monday against making Europe a rival to the United States, calling such a move “dangerous and destabilizing.” —UPI