In Paris, the heart of opposition against the Iraq war, Condoleezza Rice plans to give her first speech on US-European relations since becoming the United States' top diplomat.
Successor and predecessor: Rice and Powell
Her choice to hold her first important speech as US secretary of state in the French capital reflects Rice's public image of being a tough and straightforward politician. It shows that Rice is willing to go where it could hurt the most politically.
"She wanted to do it in Paris because she felt Paris was one of the places where there's a lot of debate and discussion about the US, about Europe, about common goals, about how we achieve our agenda," said her spokesman, Richard Boucher.
Rice's mission is clearly to explain the Bush administration's plans to the Europeans, to mediate between the Europeans and the Americans. She'll aim to bridge the transatlantic divide and stress shared values while emphasizing the United States' special role.
What to expect
"You can surely expect a buzzword in Rice's speech," said James Davis, who knows Rice from working at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "President Bush Sr. offered the Germans 'partnership in leadership.' Rice could offer the Europeans something similar, though it always remains clear who's primus inter pares."
Davies, a political scientist at the University of Munich, explained what the Europeans have to expect from Rice.
"She is always extremely well prepared and has herself very well under control," he said. "She doesn't like to make small talk and she doesn't like to go to receptions and dinners."
President Bush smiles at the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
And she has one invaluable advantage above her predecessor Powell, according to Davies: private access to President Bush. Due to her close relationship to Bush as national security advisor, she has a direct line to the White House.
"She really speaks for the president, and that is worth a lot," he said. "Colin Powell was never part of the Bush administration's inner circle."
Iraq, Iran and China
That's why Rice will be able to more effectively communicate to the White House and the National Security Council the views of her EU counterparts than Powell could. But Rice won't bring strategic change to US foreign policies.
"European-American relations will improve in style and, above all, in atmosphere, but in strategic basic decisions there won't be rapprochement with a Secretary of State Rice either," said Stephan Bierling, an expert on US foreign policy at the University of Regensburg. "The Americans' absolute priority triad -- Iraq, China and Iran -- continues unchanged, and in all three aspects, the Europeans, particularly Germany and France, have nothing to add."
Besides the familiar points of conflict -- Iraq and Iran -- the Americans and the Europeans are heading for a confrontation over China, Bierling said. China is the only country in the world that is developing war plans -- over Taiwan -- against the US, he claimed. At the same time, the EU is discussed lifting weapons sanctions against China.
Learning from the past
Since agreement between the US and numerous European states on the big issues remains inconceivable for the time being, Americans and Europeans are now trying to bake smaller transatlantic breads.
"There can surely be improvement in relations and agreement on secondary points, like stabilizing Afghanistan, WTO talks or the Middle East conflict, although the Europeans can't offer the Americans much in these areas," Bierling said.
The differences are still there, though Davies contended that both sides had learned from the conflicts of the past years. "We can do everything alone, but it's damned expensive and it isn't much fun -- that could be Washington's line now," he said. "And the Europeans have realized that they must somehow cooperate with America if they want to be relevant."