Outlining the goals of US foreign policy, Secretary of State Colin Powell made clear to the EU that Washington wants to establish good relations despite last year's biter dispute over the Iraq war.
Soon to be a more familiar face in Europe: Colin Powell
While Europe faces the realities of another four years with President George W. Bush at the helm of the only remaining superpower, Secretary of State Colin Powell reassured EU leaders that his commander-and-chief is intent on building strong ties during his second term of office, "notwithstanding any disagreements that we had in the past."
Speaking to reporters as he flew to Mexico City in his first official visit since last week's presidential elections, Powell said Europe was important to the United States. He plans to visit the continent in the next few weeks for meetings with officials from the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"I'll be spending a lot of time in Europe in the weeks coming up," he said, "just to make sure our European friends have no illusions that the president wants to have a strong relationship with all of our European friends and allies."
Powell's message was directed particularly to those European nations who opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq. Prior to and during the war, the European Union was sharply divided over support for the American military operation to topple Saddam Hussein. Whereas France and Germany were adamantly opposed to the war and accused Bush of "adventurism," British troops lined up side-by-side with their US counterparts.
Since combat operations ended and the US handed over civil control to an interim Iraqi government in June, transatlantic relations have continued to be strained over Washington's efforts to rebuild the country and European -- particularly French and German -- reluctance to provide troops to do so.
German youth in Bochum protest against the US-led war in Iraq and President Bush, on March 20, 2003.
Although Paris and Berlin have toned down their verbal attacks against the US and both have congratulated Bush on his re-election, there has not been much sign of a genuine warming of relations where Iraq and foreign policy in general is concerned. French President Jacques Chirac, for example, has said Paris will not forget its differences with Washington and that a stronger Europe was the natural response to US foreign policy assertiveness.
Like Chirac, when it comes to EU-US relations, many Europeans see the Iraq issue as the prime example of Washington's unilateral and aggressive foreign policy.
Middle East as middle ground
Referring to the European position and growing anti-Americanism, Powell said, "I understand the importance of Iraq; I understand the overhang that that and the Middle East have on how we are viewed in the world and the impression that some people have of us."
That will change over time, he added and pointed to areas like the Middle East where the United States and Europe can and should work together to find a common solution.
Arafat's death will leave a power vacuum in the Palestinian Authority
As if to demonstrate a new spirit of cooperation, Washington on Monday said US and EU officials had met on Friday to discuss efforts to revive the Middle East "road map" peace plan and how the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would change the "realities in the region."
Although White House officials played down the significance of the meeting, which was not made public until Monday, diplomatic sources said the fact that officials from France, Germany and Britain took part in the talks was a positive sign of growing transatlantic coordination on an issue that had divided the two sides in the past.
The road map is expected to be a major focus of talks this week between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been pushing his American ally to make Middle East peace a high priority in his next administration.