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Europe

Germany Upbeat, France Cautious on Rice

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer Tuesday had praise for US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, who has been nominated to be the next secretary of state. Reaction from officials in France was more cautious.

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The new face of American diplomacy

A day after saying he would miss working with retiring US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Fischer was upbeat that his relationship with Powell's replacement would be equally warm and effective.

"The work with Condoleezza Rice in her role as national security advisor at the White House was based on trust, was close, and always excellent on a personal level," Fischer, who is on a visit to Central America, said. "I assume this will also be the case in the future."

US President George W. Bush on Tuesday nominated Rice to replace Powell. Some in Europe have privately expressed regret that Powell's departure could strengthen the role of hardliners in the Bush administration who have shown little regard for European sensibilities on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to environmental matters such as global warming.

France struck a wait-and-see attitude Tuesday towards the appointment of Rice, who is widely seen as a more hawkish figure than Powell. She is a fluent Russian speaker and an expert on arms control. Amid strong European opposition to the war in Iraq, Rice allegedly said that the US should forgive Russia, forget Germany and punish France.

France remains diplomatic

Fischer und Barnier - EU Aussenministertreffen in Irland

Michel Barnier, right, the French foreign minister, and Joschka Fischer, his German counterpart

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier took a studiously diplomatic line towards the United States' future top diplomat. "France has had very proper relations with her. If she is appointed we will continue to have the same relations," Barnier told Europe 1 radio, adding that "the moment has come to rebuild, to renew, the transatlantic relation in a balanced manner."

French analysts acknowledged that her arrival at the State Department would not herald policies more palatable to Paris, but cautioned that it would be premature to write her appointment off straightaway as bad news.

According to Pascal Boniface of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Rice is likely to have "less personal initiative" than Powell because of her ideological closeness to President George W. Bush. "It is as if Bush was taking personal control of the State Department," he said.

Boniface said that Rice's famous threat to "punish" France for leading European opposition to Washington's war plans had come to little. "France is not isolated in its relationship with the US, and can count on Germany, Spain and Belgium," he said.

What about Rumsfeld?

Donald H. Rumsfeld Pressekonferenz

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

Andre Kaspi, an expert on the United States at the French National Center for Scientific Research, said Rice's appointment would signal "a desire for change with greater coordination -- because (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Powell did not get on together."

"We must wait a while before concluding that she is an enemy," he said, recalling that it was Rice who "initiated Bush to international realities."

According to Boniface, though her nomination may lead to a radicalization of US policy, developments on the ground in Iraq may well force a softer approach.

"The reality on the ground could well take precedence over ideology and encourage Rice to be more open than Rumsfeld," he said.

Some analysts said the real direction of the new administration will become clearer only when Bush completes his team with new appointments.

"The real question is whether Rumsfeld stays at defense and who takes over from Rice at national security. If (Deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz replaces Rice, that will be bad news," said Guillaume Parmentier, of the French Institute for International Relations.

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