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Europe

Powell Re-Buffed by NATO

US Secretary of State Colin Powell's "charm offensive" in Europe bore little fruit on Thursday. NATO officials dashed US hopes the alliance would significantly boost contributions to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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He believes the friendship between the US and Europe still exists

On the first day of his trip to Europe, what many are calling a "charm offensive" to sooth over tense transatlantic relations, US Secretary of State Colin Powell received disappointing news. Despite US hopes European members of the alliance would contribute to a larger officer training facility in Iraq and expand peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, he came up empty-handed.

At Thursday's meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hailed the decision on the part of certain members of the alliance, including Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland, to send more staff to an existing training facility in Baghdad, thereby boosting the total number from 60 to 300.

But that contribution falls well below US expectations, and prompted an angry outburst from Powell at a press conference. He specifically took issue with certain NATO members' decision to prevent staff seconded to the alliance from taking part in military training missions in Iraq, namely Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, and Spain.

"When it comes time to perform a mission, it seems to us to be quite awkward for suddenly members of that international staff to say they are unable to go," he said, claiming such actions undermine the credibility and cohesion of NATO.

Powell makes final lap around Europe

In what will likely to be his last European trip as US secretary of state, Colin Powell arrived in Brussels hoping Washington and Europe could come together again to respond to new threats and promote democracy.

Ahead of the NATO meeting, he said he was aware that some of President George W. Bush's key decisions in the last four years had been controversial in Europe, especially those concerning Iraq.

"Whatever our differences about the past and about Iraq, we are looking forward," Powell said in a speech to the German Marshall Fund in Brussels on Wednesday. "We're reaching out to Europe, and we hope that Europe will reach out to us."

"We can handle the bumps and bruises."

Powell pointed out that Bush would make his first trip abroad in his second term to Europe to visit the EU and NATO on Feb. 22 and that the first official visitor he received at the White House after winning re-election in November had been NATO chief de Hoop Scheffer.

He offered both as evidence of new US overtures to Europe, where Bush is widely perceived as a belligerent unilateralist and remains deeply unpopular.

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Will the EU and the United States be able to see eye-to-eye again?

Powell stressed that the United States and Europe were tied by deep cultural and ethical bonds and, in time, relations would get smoother.

"We can handle the bumps and bruises of transatlantic political life that can come along from time to time," he said. "Transatlantic politics has its blustery days, but the weather eventually improves. It's improving as I speak and will improve further when President Bush visits Europe."

Helping Iraq is in Europe 's interest, too

According to Powell, victory in Iraq is in everyone's interests, even those European nations that vehemently opposed the war. This includes successful elections in January for a transitional parliament.

"It seems to me that Europe, whatever disagreement we had last year with respect to the war, should see it (also) on the basis of principle to help the Iraqi people safely go to the polls and have an election to put in place a democratic government," Powell said.

At the NATO meeting on Thursday, the members of the alliance opposed to the invasion of Iraq did not show any indication that they agreed with Powell. "There will be no (French) officers or soldiers in Iraq," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters.

On Friday, Iraq is on the agenda when Powell meets a trio of senior EU officials in The Hague.

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