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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Rice Gives European Recital

Continent's Pundits Politely Applaud Her First Performance

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff
Thursday, February 10, 2005; 10:13 AM

The British are reserved, the French charmed, the Germans cautious and the Czechs idealistic. The Russians are resentful, the Spaniards feel left out, and the Poles realize they are not the center of the universe.

Such is the response from European commentators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic offensive that took her to 10 countries in seven days.

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Party poopers may prefer to emphasize possibly trivial developments such as Ukraine's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq or the appearance of L'anti-Americain, a cheeky French humor magazine that specializes in tweaking American culture. ("Why Does Religion Drive Their Obsession with Sex?" reads one headline. "Math Test for Gangstas" says another). In the view of more reverent observers, Rice's visit just might be a sign that Washington and Europe are getting over their Iraq feud.

"Nixon went to China, Condoleezza Rice went to Paris," said the editors of the Financial Times who approve of her message.

"Gone is the mocking of Old Europe, the poisonous itinerary of divide and rule, and the mantra - attributed to none other than Ms Rice - that the US should 'forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France.' Now the talk is of renewed partnership, a revitalized alliance and US interest in a strong and united Europe. Even those with cause to be skeptical should take Ms Rice at her word and respond in good faith."

But the FT observes that Rice's "anti-status quo" vision remains a fundamental challenge to European governments. The Bush administration is pushing "a maximalist vision of what foreign policy should aim to achieve: the transformation of the Middle East. This reflects received wisdom in Washington that the cold war proved there should be no compromise over goals, even if there is over timetables and means. "

The Independent (by subscription) was less conciliatory. The U.S-led invasion of Iraq, said the editors, "plunged a country that had been sorely oppressed into murderous chaos. The elections may or may not mark the first stage of Iraq's rebirth as a free and democratic state, and a new Iraqi state may indeed deserve as much assistance as we can afford. But it is not possible to open a 'new chapter' in transatlantic relations without an honest recognition of what went so badly wrong, and why."

Liberation (in French), a left-wing daily in Paris, preferred to cast Rice's vistit in the language of romance. "The great game of Condi to seduce Paris," proclaimed the headline. Rice's warning to European negotiators that they get tougher with Iran was packaged in a photo essay about Rice's visit to a Parisian music conservatory.

When Rice spoke in Paris on Tuesday night, Liberation reported that that much of the crowd was charmed. Former French president Valéry Giscard d' Estaing was quoted as saying he was pleased with the American "change of tone." Two German women in the audience said they were impressed by Rice's "ideal of freedom." Their French companion said she preferred "to wait to see."

A leading German daily Der Tagesspiegel (in German) struck a practical note saying, the show of harmony between Rice and German Prime Minister Gerhard Shroeder in Berlin, "was intended to prepare the way for President George W. Bush's visit to Germany."

"But it's not so easy for the mood of a nation to be turned around," the paper warned, citing an opinion poll showing that 70 per cent of Germans believe that the United States is planning an attack on Iran. "After the Iraq experience there is deep mistrust."

The United States needs Europe more than ever, writes Peter Sain le Berry in the Prague Post. This fabulously named pundit recycles the idea of Martian America and Vesuvian Europe.

" If America's way is to speak loud and carry a big stick, Europe's is to speak soft and to provide the carrot and increasingly now a framework too. The American approach is tough and masculine; Europe's is more subtle, perhaps feminine. We bank more goodwill than the United States -- possibly because we have learned from our war-torn history -- and we can trade it to the world's benefit in places such as Iran," says Sain le Berry.

Two of Spain's leading newspapers expressed regret that Spain was not on Rice's itinerary. Both the conservative ABC (in Spanish) and the liberal El Pais (in Spanish, by subscription) attributed the omission to the decision of Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq after the March 13, 2004, terrorist attack in Madrid.

Spain is excluded from Rice's European strategy "because of the narrow-mindedness of a Socialist government which opted for gestures for electoral consumption," said ABC. El Pais blamed the Americans for "infantile snubs" that ignored Spain's assistance in Afghanistan and the training of Iraqi security forces.

The Polish newspaper Trybuna (in Polish) noted that foreign minister Adam Rotfeld had used the occasion of Rice's visit to dismiss the Bush administration's vision of an "Old Europe," (led by France and Gemany) and "New Europe (led by more pro-American Poland and the Czech Republic).

"There is only one Europe. And we are part of this Europe," Rotfeld said, with Rice sitting next to him.

(The Trybuna reporter noted that visiting American journalists did not view Poland "as the hub of the universe, which we sometimes consider ourselves to be.")

One Russian commentator felt belittled that the secretary of state did not stop in Russia. A columnist for the communist daily Sovetskaya Rossiya (in Russian) said Rice "scorched like a meteor over Europe and the Middle East." The fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had to travel to Turkey to meet Rice and had to stand in "a queue between the Polish and Turkish leaders" was taken as an indicator of "Russia's place in US foreign policy".

Lavrov "brushed off" Rice's criticism of Russian political order, according to the independent Moscow News

"Rice said the United States was concerned about Russia's democratic situation and would press Moscow to protect democracy which is "vital to the future of US-Russian relations," the Moscow daily reported. Lavrov reportedly responded by saying "the domestic political situation is an internal affair of Russia."

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