Europe considers its alliances

Secretary of State Powell is set to meet Friday with German Chancellor Schröder.

As the US and its "Old Europe" allies try to overcome their differences over Iraq, Europe is also examining its internal rifts laid open by the Iraq war.

While differences remain over how to rebuild Iraq and the role the United Nations should play in that process, Germany, which, along with France, sought to block US war plans at the UN Security Council, appears to be retreating from the idea that Europe could become a rival in world politics and a challenge to American hegemony.

The shift in emphasis indicates that France's efforts to drive a wedge between Europe and the US have failed - and that European countries such as Britain, Spain and Poland, which called for a cooperative European alliance with the US, have won the upper hand.

Highlighting the shift in US alliances in Europe, Poland is emerging as a broker between European states that favor a close alliance with the US and countries like France that seek to contain US influence in European affairs. By doing so, Poland, which backed the US war effort, has sought to assume a role that was previously reserved for Germany.

But there are signs that Germany wants to regain that role.

Friendly German overtures

In advance of a meeting Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who had staked his reelection bid on opposition to the Iraq war, has adopted conciliatory language aimed at assuring Washington that Berlin remains a key US ally.

Schröder used an event on Friday marking the 100th anniversary of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany to emphasize the deep ties shared between Germany and the US, which he said were "bound by a really vital friendship."

"This friendship is founded on a solid basis of common experience and common values," he said. Debating whether the post-cold-war world should be unipolar - an expression indicating domination by the US - or multipolar is "hardly productive," he said. "We really all agree that we want to have only one pole in world politics: the pole of freedom, peace, and justice," he said.

During their meeting on Friday, Powell and Schröder will discuss the situation in Iraq and the peace process in the Middle East. Schröder is also expected to discuss specific measures to rebuild ties between Berlin and Washington. His aides have been working to set up a meeting between President Bush and Schröder when the two men attend ceremonies marking St. Petersburg's 300th birthday May 31. The Germans would like there to be some public demonstration of reconciliation between the two men.

But even senior members of Schröder's own party suggest that the relationship between Schröder and Bush is "kaput."

Hans Ulrich Klose, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, said the White House - and even Bush's critics - are still fuming over a comparison by Schröder's former justice minister of Bush's Iraq policy with the foreign policy of Adolf Hitler. Schröder reprimanded the minister, but left her in office until the election in September. After the election, she was made chairman of a parliamentary committee.

"No one in the US - not even critics of the president - understands this. Does the chancellor?" said Klose.

The divisions within Europe over Iraq and the increased emphasis that the US is placing on new members of NATO like Poland is having an impact within Europe.

A routine meeting of the leaders of the so-called "Weimar Triangle" - France, Germany and Poland - in Wroclaw, Poland, Friday was transformed into an effort to reconcile "old" and "new" Europe.

Poland's new role

For Poland, its newfound importance to the US as a European player contrasts sharply with recent treatment from French President Jacques Chirac. During the Iraq debate, Mr. Chirac warned Poland to "keep quiet."

"Poland no longer appears in the role of a supplicant, humbly admitted to the table," wrote Poland's Trybuna daily in an editorial. "Now its position not only must be taken into account, it can also be made good use of."

The US has chosen Poland to lead one of three occupation zones being created in Iraq. Poland's acceptance of the mandate embarrassed Germany and isolated the French.

Last week Poland suggested that it could lead forces in Iraq that include German and Danish troops from a joint military corps. Germany shrugged off the idea, but now no longer rules out sending troops to Iraq as part of a NATO force with a UN mandate.

The split in Europe over Iraq is also providing new momentum for efforts to create a common European foreign policy - which would offer clearly enunciated European positions and might prevent the kind of fissures in the Western alliance created by the Iraq war.

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who diplomats say was at odds with Schröder over Iraq, is taking a leading role in restructuring the European Union's foreign-policy regime.

Efforts toward European unity

Fischer, who has maintained close ties to Powell throughout the Iraq crisis, has called on Europe to draft a joint military and security doctrine. He has also drafted a blueprint to create a European diplomatic corps as an independent EU government office with oversight over the EU's military and civilian conflict management and defense policy. Fischer also wants the European foreign ministry to have authority to evaluate political developments outside the EU and formulate foreign policy options for EU leaders.

As details of Fischer's plan for European foreign policy is emerging, a campaign to appoint him as Europe's first foreign minister is gaining momentum. Last week, Jean-Claude Junker, an influential European statesmen and prime minister of Luxembourg, threw Fischer's name into the ring, calling him an "excellent appointment" for the job. Since becoming Germany's foreign minister in 1998, Fischer has been an enthusiastic advocate of a common European foreign policy and has been active in giving Europe a voice in the Middle East peace process.

Schröder appeared to officially nominate his foreign minister for the job as European foreign minister in the interview with the Tagesspiegel on Sunday, saying that he would hate to lose Fischer as foreign minister. "But if such a position is obtainable for Germany and we have an excellent candidate, then the chancellor cannot be selfish," he said.

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