Put aside differences with U.S., Rice urges France

European trip focuses on mending alliances

February 09, 2005|By Tyler Marshall and Sebastian Rotella | Tyler Marshall and Sebastian Rotella,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached out to America's allies in Europe yesterday, urging them to set aside the differences that have strained trans-Atlantic ties since the invasion of Iraq and join with the United States to broaden the boundaries of freedom in the world.

Rice's 25-minute speech, delivered at one of France's premier schools of political learning, was a high-profile effort to win European support for President Bush's ambitious vision of spreading democracy to the Middle East.

"It's time to turn away from the disagreements of the past," Rice told an audience at the Institute of Political Studies that included several members of the French political and intellectual elite, such as former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and former Premier Alain Juppe. "It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance. America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda -- and Europe must stand ready to work with America."

Aides to Rice previewed the speech as a major event of her first overseas trip since replacing Colin L. Powell last month as secretary of state. Her tour marked the latest in a series of moves since Bush's re-election in November to mend relations with key European allies.

Her remarks, followed by a brief question and answer session, were greeted with polite but restrained applause from the audience.

Official enthusiasm

Officially, France embraced Rice's overture. At a joint news conference with the secretary of State last night, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier bordered on the effusive, referring to his counterpart on three occasions as "dear Condi." He spoke enthusiastically about her comments, using similar language to describe the way forward.

"The world is a better place when America and Europe work together," Barnier said. "I think it is time for a fresh start."

A senior State Department official said French President Jacques Chirac complimented Rice twice on her speech during the course of an hourlong meeting that focused on a range of topics, including developments in the Middle East.

French and U.S. officials carefully skirted many of the issues that continue to divide them, including differences over how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, European plans to lift an arms embargo against China, and the role of the International Criminal Court.

Outside the French government, however, initial reaction here to the secretary of state's remarks was mixed.

Benjamin Barnier, a French journalism student who attended the speech, said Rice spoke effectively but her vision of world affairs tended toward excessive optimism.

Although Paris and Washington have clashed over Iraq and other issues, the student said he thought her call for a new era of U.S.-French partnership was convincing.

"I think it's going to help," he said. "I think the relationship between France and the U.S. is not so bad."

During comments on France 2 television, political scientist Olivier Duhamel said Rice's call for cooperation was the result of shortcomings of Bush administration policies during the past four years.

"Reality punished the excesses of some American intellectuals in Iraq, so now they need France and they need Europe," said Duhamel.

Rice's eight-day trip, which includes stops in seven European capitals in addition to a brief visit to the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, is also meant to pave the way for Bush's European visit later this month.

While some European countries, including Britain, Spain and Poland, joined the U.S.-led military coalition that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein nearly two years ago, many did not -- France and Germany among them.

Counterweight issue

The decision for Rice to deliver her speech in Paris was no coincidence.

France, and specifically the influential Institute of Political Studies, have been at the center of a debate on how to develop a counterweight to a level of American power that is seen by many in Europe as excessive.

A senior Bush administration official said the central message of Rice's speech was that the United States wants a partner, not a counterweight.

The choice of Paris as the venue for her remarks reflected both the importance of bringing major European countries on board and the administration's determination to do so, they said.

The administration's professed determination to transform the Middle East is predicated on the belief that the origins of the terrorism that threatens the United States can be found in the lack of political freedom in much of the region. Last month's Iraqi elections and yesterday's Palestinian-Israeli summit are the latest in a series of developments that U.S. officials hope will dent European cynicism about Bush's vision.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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