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As Bush launches farewell tour, Europe warms up

The US-German relationship is perhaps the clearest example of improving ties since the Iraq war began.

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'The West needs US leadership'

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The US elections, the crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan, and worry about chaos ranging from terrorism to natural disasters to financial markets has raised anew a discourse in Europe's political class about America's role. Says a longtime German insider, "The political class realizes the West needs US leadership, despite what protesters say. Even after the US screw-up in the Middle East they feel the US is needed there."

"Under [former Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder, you did hear about Europe as a counterweight to the US, but not now. Europe is too divided," says Henning Riecke of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "The West is a phenomenon that only works with American leadership. We can't solve Kosovo, Iran, and the Middle East without Washington."

But whether America can lead affirmatively under the next administration, say many experts here, depends in part on the disposition in Washington on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many Germans and Europeans are concerned about an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq. "Europeans want America to stay in Iraq until a withdrawal is possible without creating a further civil war ... We are a little concerned about a withdrawal leading to chaos," says Dr. Riecke.

A US foreign policy that is consultative and less "arrogant" – a main European criticism – is desired. Diplomatic sources say it would be extremely ameliorative for Bush while in Europe to admit mistakes as well as successes, and even to signal that no unilateral attack on Iran will take place. Europe's need for the US is pragmatic. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said this spring in an interview that "the magic is gone" in the European view of Washington, though other leaders have said this can change.

Bush's low-key whirlwind swan song contains few hard policy "deliverables," White House aides say. He will take up common interests. Along with the Afghan mission, Bush will push for European resolve on Iran's nuclear program, and help for Kosovo.

He's not expected, however, to offer new initiatives on climate change, a main European concern. Europeans want developed nations to take greater financial responsibility and initiative for emissions in nations like India and China; the White House, which has not altered its views ahead of a December summit in Poznan, Poland, desires more initiative in those states.

US credited for supporting E. Europe