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Rice's trip to focus on mending rifts in Europe, Mideast
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — As newly installed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a weeklong trip to Europe tomorrow, European officials said they are eager to put the tensions of the past four years behind them but without minimizing potential areas of conflict, such as how to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions.
President Bush thrilled Europeans by deciding that he and Rice would make their first post-inaugural overseas trips to Europe — carefully choreographed acts designed to show an interest in repairing a transatlantic breach over Iraq, the Middle East peace process, global warming and other issues.
Europeans said conditions are ripe for a rapprochement, particularly now that the elections in Iraq appear to have gone smoothly and the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has given new impetus to peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians.
"We're not in the business of fighting last year's war," a senior German official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of U.S.-European relations. "There really is a mood of positive expectations."
Nevertheless, Europeans say they await Rice's visit with more than a little nervousness, especially because some disputes will not be easily resolved:
U.S. officials are fuming that the European Union is about to lift an arms embargo imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, though European officials stress that they will impose a code of conduct on exports. Rice told the Agence France-Presse and Reuters news agencies yesterday in an interview that lifting the embargo would "send the wrong signal about human rights."
On Iran, some Europeans are frustrated because they believe their efforts to restrain Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy will fail without U.S. involvement — and the Bush administration has not budged from its position that it will not join in any talks.
Vice President Dick Cheney's recent statement that Israel might feel compelled to attack Iran's nuclear facilities received wide publicity in Europe and alarmed European officials, adding to tensions over the issue. But British officials disagree with some European officials, saying that talk of huge divisions on Iran are overblown. "Europeans will always try and push for the maximum line on U.S. engagement," one British official said.
In a whirlwind seven days, Rice will travel to London, Berlin, Warsaw, Ankara, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Rome, Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg City. She will also meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Ankara, Turkey. The issues will vary from stop to stop — the Poles want to discuss assisting the new Ukraine government, while the Turks are worried that the Iraqi Kurds are receiving too much deference — but in every stop Rice and European officials will also try to narrow differences over issues of regional interest.
Rice also plans to give a major speech and to take questions from the audience in Paris, the center of European opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In the speech, she plans to say that Europeans and Americans have common values and that it would be best to work together to advance common interests, such as global democracy.
In France, Germany and Britain, she will meet in closed session with leading academics and intellectuals. British officials say Prime Minister Tony Blair secured an agreement from Bush after the November elections to schedule an early visit to Europe to repair relations, and Rice's trip is intended to lay the groundwork for the president's visit later this month.
Still, there is little indication that Rice plans to offer any significant policy changes, European and American officials said. "We are in a moment of growing convergence on a number of issues," one ambassador said. "The substance has not changed; the positions are the same as a few months ago. But the style and circumstances have changed."
Two previous flash points — Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — provide the greatest possibilities for closer coordination, European officials said. A number of key European allies have begun to withdraw troops from Iraq, though during Cheney's visit to Poland last week, the Poles agreed to withdraw only 700 troops and defer a decision on the remaining 1,700.
But the administration has chosen not to make an issue of the departures, and Bush in his statement Sunday on the Iraqi elections pointedly praised the assistance of the European Union.
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