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Europe

At Summit, US Has Little Room to Gloat

Reconstruction in Iraq and the situation in the Middle East are on the official agenda for Monday's EU-US summit in Washington. But the EU's current crisis is bound to come up for discussion.

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For better or worse, they seem stuck together

Rumor has it that US President George W. Bush is feeling a bit of schadenfreude these days. After all, "Old Europe," which now faces one of its worst crises after EU budget talks failed last week, opposed his plans to go to war in Iraq.

Officially, however, Washington is eager to show its commitment and faith in the union on the other side of the Atlantic. Preparing Monday's EU-US summit with her European colleagues, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did her best to pamper the sickly 25-nation bloc.

Condoleezza Rice in Luxemburg Javier Solana und Jean Asselborn

Rice (left) with Solana and Asselborn during a meeting in Luxembourg in February

"Europe and the European Union is alive," she said after a meeting with Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Asselborn currently holds the EU presidency.

"We understand that Europe is going through a difficult phase right now," Rice added. "But we continue to hope for an outward-looking Europe, not an inward-looking one."

Some are gleeful

Despite Rice's statements, others in Washington are gleefully watching Europe's agony from the sidelines. They have not forgotten vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in the US capital.

"If we look at Europe's deep division over the Iraq war, it's not clear to everyone in the US why a united and strong EU is really necessary," he told German public broadcaster NDR.

Bush needs Europe

While that may be the thinking of the average American, the US leadership does need a united Europe, O'Hanlon said. Bush needs the bloc's help in rebuilding Iraq, in pushing for peace in the Middle East and in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

George Bush mit Gerhard Schröder

Bush (left) with Schröder and Chirac in Evian, France during the G8 summit in June 2003

Despite recent trade disputes such as the Airbus-Boeing row and fights over steel and banana tariffs, the US and EU economies are also closely intertwined. In short, Bush cannot afford a weak EU, O'Hanlon said.

"He needs Europe's help," the political scientist added. "Bush leads a country that has lost 1,700 soldiers in Iraq, that has spent $200 billion (163.6 billion euros) on a war without seeing results. Bush isn't much better off than (French President) Jacques Chirac or (German Chancellor) Gerhard Schröder."

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