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Can Katrina Help Mend Transatlantic Ties?

One small positive aspect of all the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina might be an improvement in transatlantic ties strained by the war in Iraq, experts say.

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Europe wants to help America in its time of need

France is sending relief teams and planes laden with supplies. German technical experts with high-speed water pumps, trucks and food rations have already arrived.

Even if transatlantic relations have only slightly thawed in the past two years, experts say the disaster in the southern states will be a further balm, spurred by money, food, personnel and gratitude.

"This may be the silver lining, what could come from Katrina," said John K. Glenn, director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank that studies and promotes transatlantic relations. "It would be a way for us (Americans and Europeans) to find the energy to look beyond Iraq."

US-European relations were keenly tested during the 2003 campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, with Germany and France leading the anti-war bloc and Britain, Italy and Spain backing Washington.

A desire for cooperation

Glenn said that though relations have since been on the mend, the Katrina disaster could spur the two sides in the transatlantic divide to focus more closely on issues they agree on rather than harp on rifts exacerbated by the war in Iraq.

"On both sides of the Atlantic, there is a desire for cooperation ... and this can only provide an opportunity for relations to come closer again," he added.

Gerhard Schröder bei George Bush in Washington

More cooperation and smiles in the future?

Danish ambassador Ulrik Andreas Federspiel, who is leaving Washington this month after five and a half years, echoed Glenn's comments in an interview published this week.

"In a sad way, Katrina may contribute to better transatlantic ties," he told the Washington Post. "What is common with the aftermath of 9/11 ... is the realization that the American people are also vulnerable, there are no safe havens anywhere and no one can live alone on an island."

He and others noted that in seeking foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, Washington had debunked a commonly held perception overseas that it could go always get by without outside help.

Accepting aid

After initial hesitation, the United States earlier this week officially asked for emergency aid from the EU in the form of blankets, medicines, water, pumps, food rations and other items.

Last week, new US Ambassador to Germany, William R. Timken, Jr. met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to accept German aid. In his first press conference a few days later, he stressed "increased cooperation" between the two nations.

Meanwhile, three French planes have since flown in with supplies along with aid from other countries including Britain, Germany, Greece and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

THW auf dem Weg in Hurrikangebiet

German technical experts are on their way Louisiana

Nathalie Loiseau, spokeswoman at the French embassy in Washington, denied reports that Washington had initially balked at Paris' offer to help and qualified the idea that Katrina was a necessary catalyst for improving bilateral ties.

"It would be wrong to say that a catastrophe is a golden opportunity," she said. "The hurricane comes at a moment where our relations are back on track and excellent as they should be."

A reallocation of priorities

Simon Serfaty, an expert on European affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington said though he did not feel the hurricane and its aftermath could have a direct impact on transatlantic ties, it could have a ripple effect.

He said the unfolding domestic debate between Democrats and Republicans on the handling of the disaster may force President George W. Bush to reassess his priorities and change his agenda, thus affecting his foreign policy.

"How America is governed in the end does have an impact on Europe and the world," he said. "The reallocation of priorities is very important, because this would in fact be done possibly at the expense of some of the US role in the world."

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