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Europe and the US attempt to mend fences, but deep rifts remain

Ahead of the G-20 summit, Spain decides to withdraw troops from Kosovo and investigate Bush officials for torture.

By Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor / March 31, 2009

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (r.) listens to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), during a meeting at Madrid's Moncloa palace on March 30, 2009.

Andrea Comas/Reuters



Europe's love affair with President Obama is not over, but the honeymoon seems to be.

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As the president arrives in London today at the start of his first transatlantic trip, he will be welcomed by a continent that's eager to refresh its relationship with the United States. But the US and Europe are not on the same page in several key areas.

There are fundamental differences in approaches to correcting the world's economic woes – the Czech Premier Mirek Topolanek, speaking as head of the rotating European Union presidency, said last week that Obama's economic recovery plans were "a way to hell." Europe and the US remain divided over Afghanistan.

And perhaps the starkest example of lingering US-Europe divisions comes out of Spain.

Crusading Spanish human rights judge Baltasar Garzón is now considering criminal charges against top Bush administration officials for the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Judge Garzón's previous prosecution of Gen. Augusto Pinochet eventually resulted in the Chilean dictator's arrest in Britain.

Spain also recently announced that it will withdraw the bulk of its 620 troops from Kosovo this summer. In response, US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, "We are deeply disappointed by this decision."

The timing of the Kosovo troop withdrawal announcement was unfortunate for the government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who will meet Mr. Obama at the G-20 summit in London.

Mr. Zapatero has been trying hard to rekindle bilateral relations with the new president. Spain was one of the first to accept, in principle, the transfer of some Guantánamo Bay terrorism detainees. Mr. Bush effectively blacklisted Zapatero in 2004 after he ordered Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq over objections to the US invasion.