US and Europe: almost like old times

At least Bush and European governments are able to cooperate on key issues – despite Iraq.

'What's past is past," President Bush said Wednesday in Vienna about Europe's split with the US over Iraq. That's a rosy view, but he's right in this sense: At least governments – if not publics – on both sides are now able to work on other pressing issues despite their differences.

At a one-day summit, the top leadership of the 25-member European Union stood firmly with Mr. Bush on the nuclear-problem countries of Iran and North Korea, and pledged to address together energy reliability and democracy issues they have with Russia. They inched closer to one another on global warming. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, even jumped to Bush's defense, labeling polls "grotesque" that claim many Europeans believe the US is a greater threat than Iran.

This diplomatic unity represents a significant and needed shift from US-European relations during the first-term White House, when ties between Washington and the key capitals of Berlin and Paris were laden with icicles. The world can't afford to have strong democracies locked in a feud. As Bush said simply but aptly, "This world needs us to work together, because there are a lot of challenges."

That's more possible since Bush's second term, when he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice extended an olive branch across the Atlantic. European diplomats describe a friendlier, more patient, and listening administration – helped, as well, by the departure of one of Bush's harshest critics, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. One European diplomat at the summit describes "a sort of comfort in the relationship."

It almost feels, dare one say, like old times – if, that is, it's remembered that there never was a golden age in modern transatlantic relations. If Europeans weren't protesting the cold-war deployment of US short-range nuclear missiles on their soil, then they were complaining (and still are) about big-foot America. The US, too, was constantly after Europe to share more of the defense burden (and still is).

As in pre-Iraq days, disagreements surfaced at this week's summit. Bush tried to head off one of them by saying he, too, would like to close the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which Mr. Schuessel said undermines the war on terrorism because it undermines "our common values." Meanwhile, neither side was able to resolve long-standing disagreements holding up urgent world trade talks.

Not to belittle those and other disagreements, but more remarkable, has been the increased cooperation between the US and Europe.

The two sides are finding ways to help needy Palestinians while withholding support from their Hamas government. NATO is stepping up its presence in Afghanistan, though Bush is right to insist that Europe make good on pledges of aid to Iraq. Most noteworthy is an about-face US offer to join Europe in talking to Iran and provide aid if that nation suspends its nuclear enrichment.

It's not summertime yet in US- European relations. But it's warm enough to allow a certain blossoming – weeds and all.

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