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Kerry's Iraq Stance Finds More Takers in Europe

Europe's reaction to the first US presidential televised debate shows that Democratic challenger John Kerry may have won more admirers in Europe with his vow to repair damaged transatlantic alliances over the Iraq war.

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Kerry, left, cut a more convincing figure in Europe than Bush

The US-led Iraq war dominated much of a combative televised debate between US President George Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry in Florida on Thursday. The two were taking part in the first of three televised debates in the run-up to November's US presidential election.

While Bush questioned Kerry's ability to lead America in dangerous times and his voting to authorize the same war he now criticizes, Kerry called the war in Iraq "a colossal error of judgment."

George Bush und John Kerry im Fernsehen Fernsehdebatte

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, left, gestures while President Bush listens during the presidential debate.

Kerry also attacked Bush's foreign policy over the Iraq war, accusing him of leaving US alliances around the world "in shatters." Saying that Bush's decision to invade Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council had left the US with "90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost," Kerry said on Thursday that it was time for the US to get outside help.

"I think we need a president who has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and to do what's necessary to make it so America isn't doing this alone," Kerry said, vowing to invite allies to a summit on Iraq.

Kerry more popular than ever in Europe

Getting US allies back on board, a consistent theme of Kerry's presidential campaign, has a strong resonance in Europe where strong opposition to the war from countries like Germany and France have led to frosty relations with the US. Though transatlantic tensions resulting from the US' go-it-alone approach in Iraq have eased in past months, there remains little doubt that it will take time to undo the damage.

On Friday, while many commentators and media were saying the first round of three televised debates had definitely gone to Kerry, European analysts said Kerry had endeared himself further to Europeans.

Karsten Voigt, Berlin's coordinator of German-US ties, said the debate would have served to confirm the gut preference of most Europeans in favor of Kerry.

Grossdemonstration gegen den Krieg gegen Irak in Berlin

Anti-war demonstrators near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

"Because in Europe, unlike in America, a lot of people were skeptical about the war, you'll probably find that the majority of Europeans found Kerry more convincing," Voigt told Reuters television.

Carsten Schmiester, a radio correspondent in Washington for German public broadcaster NDR said Kerry "was concentrated and convinced and presented himself as a real alternative to George Bush."

Gernot Erler, a senior lawmaker with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats told n-tv television that Germans couldn't help but notice that Kerry's stand regarding the Iraq war and his opposition to unilateral attacks is closer to Germany's, a country that refused to send soldiers to Iraq.

"Kerry is against unilateral American actions. He doesn't believe that the superpower America can solve all the problems of this world alone. That corresponds with the beliefs of... the German government," Erler said.

No concrete plans to get out of Iraq

However, some analysts warned that though Europeans might be flattered by Kerry's overtures, they might be forced to get more involved in Iraq if Kerry did enter the White House on November 2.

Italienische Carabinieri in Irak auf Streife

An Italian Carabinieri military police officer looks on from his vehicle while patrolling the streets of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Kerry created a mood of empathy for the Europeans, which is no surprise," Annette Heuser, director of the Bertelsmann Foundation think-tank told Reuters. "But I would warn Europeans it would then be up to us to deliver," she said, adding that Kerry's popularity with Europe could make it harder for war opponents such as France and Germany to ignore future calls for military peacekeeping help.

While most experts agreed that Kerry might have made himself even more popular in Europe after the debate, some also criticized that he failed to offer any concrete way out of the Iraq crisis during the debate.

"He fails to explain how he would suddenly manage to draw other allies to Iraq," Bruno Tertrais, analyst at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris told Reuters. "That's not convincing. He fails to say how he would do it in concrete terms."

Bush criticized Kerry on Thursday for saying it was the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place. "What message does that send to our troops?" the president said. "Not a message a commander in chief gives."

Bush, who insisted the "world is safer with Saddam Hussein", said Kerry denigrated US allies in the war, voted against the $87 billion measure to aid Afghanistan and Iraq and sent mixed signals.

Daniel Coats, US ambassador to Germany told Phoenix television that Kerry had failed to explain to the Americans how he planned to lead the country. Kerry couldn't drop the indecisiveness and wavering which he has displayed all along on the Iraq question, Coats said.

"For this reason, he didn't actually achieve what he was apparently hoping to," Coats said.

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