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Europe

NATO Summit: Air Kisses, But Little Love Between Bush, Schröder

A pre-summit, informal handshake was as far as niceties went between Gerhard Schröder and George W.Bush, a sign that all is not well in U.S.-German relations despite reassurances to the contrary.

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Bush has formally asked Germany to contribute to a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

As NATO celebrated an historic day in Prague inviting seven former communist countries to join the alliance, two of its longest-serving members were frantically trying to play down their differences.

The relationship between Germany and the United States has been strained ever since Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took an uncompromising stance on Germany's role in a potential U.S.-led Iraq war.

Although both sides have been at pains to reassure the public that relations have reached a degree of normalcy, it is clear that a great deal of that is wishful thinking especially on Germany's part.

Thus it came as no surprise that German government circles dwelled extensively on the handshake between the chancellor and President George W. Bush on the eve of the summit. "It was a long and firm handshake," a spokesman said.

Frosty relationship

Other observers noted, however, that both men appeared to be steering clear of each other, sitting at opposite ends at an official summit gathering on Wednesday night.

The general view is that it will take a lot more than a handshake to bring the two sides closer together again.

Bush aides say the president is still seething about Schröder's intransigence over Iraq before the German election when Schöder categorically ruled out his country's participation in a possible conflict.

To make matters worse, the then-German justice minister, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, likened Bush's political tactics to those employed by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Bush then refused to offer Schröder his congratulations on winning the election.

"Professional" approach

Although a recent visit to Washington by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer seems to indicate a slow rapprochement between the two sides, a senior Bush aide said that the president would conduct himself with "professionalism" in relations with Schröder from now on.

And in a veiled barb at Schröder, Bush said on Wednesday that European democracies should not be inward-looking or isolated by indifference. He also made the point that Europe was "wounded by Nazism and communism."

However, he stressed the importance of the historical ties between the United States and Europe. "We are tied to Europe by the wars of liberty we have fought...we're joined by broad ties of trade...America believes that a strong, confident Europe is good for the world. We welcome the economic integration of Europe. We believe that integration will extend prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic."

Support for Turkey

On the subject of European Union enlargement, Turkish officials said that Bush had told his counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer of his support for Turkey's bid to join the EU, adding that he had lobbied EU leaders encouraging them to take an "appropriate decision" at the upcoming summit on enlargement in Copenhagen.

In a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Bush also stressed "the importance of the Copenhagen summit for advancing Turkey's evolution towards the EU."

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