WASHINGTON (AFP) – President George W. Bush has moved to strengthen diplomatic bridges across the Atlantic amidst warnings of a crisis in relations with Europe.
On top of a White House speech which urged opponents of the Iraq war to forget divisions over the invasion and concentrate on the ‘war on terror’, Bush also telephoned presidents Jacques Chirac of France and Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland to reinforce his message.
Bush’s conciliatory moves came only days after the Spain’s socialist prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero threatened to withdraw the country’s troops from the international coalition in Iraq, calling the occupation “a fiasco”.
Kwasniewski also caused concern in Washington with remarks on Thursday that the international community had been misled over the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
A report released Friday by 26 European and US political and diplomatic figures said US-European relations have hit a crisis point, mainly because of Iraq.
“The transatlantic relationship is under greater strain today than at any point in at least a generation,” said an investigation led by former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers.
“Many Europeans assume malign intent on the part of the United states. Many Americans resent European behavior and dismiss European perception of today’s threats,” it added.
“The war in Iraq brought these strains to the point of crisis,” argued the authors in the report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
The former ministers and diplomats said the Bush administration sought to separate opponents of the war such as NATO members France and Germany “from other members of the alliance and the European Union.”
In his speech at the White House, the US president acknowledged “disagreements” between “old and valued friends” over his order to invade Iraq on March 20 last year. But he said “those differences belong to the past” and the world must now devote its attention to the war on terrorism.
“Whatever their past views, every nation now has an interest in a free, successful, stable Iraq, according to the US leader.
Bush was careful to include France and Germany in a list of countries that had made sacrifices in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the war on terror. Both have sent troops to Afghanistan.
In a telephone conversation with the French president, Bush thanked Chirac for his strong comments against terrorism after the Madrid bombings last week, the White House said. The bombings were blamed for the defeat three days of the conservative government in Spain that had been strong US ally in Iraq.
And in a separate call, the Polish president told Bush his country was committed to the US-led coalition in Iraq, despite remarks attributed to Krasniewski saying Poland had been misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the White House said.
But Bush still faces troubles at home over Iraq where the opposition are making a big election issue over the war.
Democratic presidential contender John Kerry has accused Bush of misleading the American people over the conduct of the war and isolating the United States by not building a firm international coalition in Iraq.
Helmut Sonnenfeldt, an expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that Bush “is trying to counter the impression raised by the Democrats that the US is now an isolated country.”