Friday, May 30, 2003

By Elisabeth Bumiller - from THE NEW YORK TIMES.

WASHINGTON, May 30 — President Bush left today for his first meeting with the leaders of France and Germany since their battles over the Iraq war, but officials on both sides are saying that the three combustible personalities are unlikely to do more than paper over the deep fissures between the "old" Europe and the United States.

Diplomats noted that Mr. Bush had chosen not France or Germany but Poland, a supporter of the American-led invasion of Iraq and a crucial part of what he considers the "new" Europe, as the place to deliver his keynote European address on the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Bush has also cut short his stay, from two days to one, at a meeting of the world's leading industrialized nations in Évian, France. His reason is that he must leave early for Middle East meetings with Arab leaders and then the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers.

"When I say something, we actually go do it," Mr. Bush told an interviewer from Nile-TV, an Egyptian network. "And when I say that I'm going to be involved in the peace process, I mean I'm going to be involved in the peace process."

In another interview, he made clear that the United States and France still had a troubled relationship.

He told the French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview to be published today, that he expected to have a "good discussion" at Évian with the French president, Jacques Chirac.

At the same time he warned that French leaders "must work to convince their own citizens and show that France is ready to cooperate with the United States."

Nonetheless, Mr. Bush said that Évian "will not be a summit of confrontation" and that "it will be a pleasure to talk with Jacques Chirac." He added, "Vive la France!"

Mr. Bush has a half-hour meeting on Monday with Mr. Chirac, the host of Évian. The agenda calls for discussions on the Middle East, AIDS, and the reconstruction of Iraq, but foreign policy experts say that the agenda will be overshadowed by the body language as will Mr. Bush's encounter with the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, which will take place in a group.

"It could be a Kumbaya-like get-together with everyone holding hands and committed to forgetting about the past," said Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was a director of European Affairs on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. "But more likely, it will be a schoolyard with bullies on opposite sides glaring at each other and still angry about the fight they just had."

Earlier this month, Mr. Bush acknowledged that the summit meeting would be seen as a gathering of warring egos rather than a triumph of substance when he told a German delegation visiting the White House that he knew that every public moment he spent with Mr. Schröder would be under scrutiny.

"I know that when we meet all the the television crews will be watching to see if we get into a fistfight — and we won't," a German visitor quoted the president as saying. Such is the state of Mr. Bush's relationship with Mr. Schröder that the delegation interpreted the remark as conciliatory.

Officially, the White House says that Évian will be about the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship and that the leaders will work together to combat terrorism and the sagging world economy. The trans-Atlantic split over Iraq is past, they insist — just another squabble, to use Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's favored metaphor, in a marriage that has been in counseling for 200 years.

"I imagine that in marriage counseling the first thing you don't do is, item one, get up and over coffee talk about the fight you had last week," said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the trip this week. "That probably doesn't strike me as the best way to build the relationship of the future. You talk about the chores you need to do together that day. And the relationship then starts righting itself, so to speak."

Unofficially, administration officials say that Mr. Bush is still angry with Mr. Chirac for working against the United States on the Iraq war and that he will never again trust Mr. Schröder for campaigning on an antiwar — and, they say, anti-American — platform in Germany last fall.

Administration officials now view Mr. Bush's Évian trip as an obligation wedged among the other appearances — the speech in Krakow, Poland, a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the 300th anniversary celebration of St. Petersburg and the three-way summit conference in Jordan.

White House officials say it is no accident Mr. Bush chose Poland. President Aleksander Kwasniewski committed 200 Polish troops to the Iraq war and he will now be the most recent leader to be thanked for supporting Mr. Bush's view of the world.

Scholars note, however, that Poland and other Eastern European nations of Mr. Bush's "new" Europe date back further than nations like Germany, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld infamously derided before the Iraq war as part of the "old" Europe, along with France.

"They're all old — Europe is old," Mr. Daalder said. "In that sense, it's nonsensical. There are countries that are now members of the `new' Europe that predate countries of the `old' Europe. Germany was unified and became a single state long after Poland was an independent country."

Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States, said on Thursday that Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac had a "positive, relaxed" 10-minute phone conversation this month in preparation for Évian, and that they "want to go beyond the bitterness of the past."

Mr. Levitte said that France did not see its role as serving as a check on American power in the world.

"Our problem is that there is not enough European military capacity," he said. "It has nothing to do with the supposed desire of France to limit American power."

Templarium comments the issue: as per the words of Mr. Levitte, from France, Europe (western and eastern) does not actually have enough military capacity..."; although does have (western - mainly) far much more history, education, sense of justice, democracy and respect towards the differences on human beings in a free and civilised world - that the neo-emperor George Bush insists on labelling 'old'. By the way, it still seems that one of the middle-class american dreams is "to spend a night in Paris"...

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