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Germany

U.S. Starts Charm Offensive in 'Old Europe'

U.S. President Bush has started a charm offensive to win over the Germans, the French and the Russians. But they're unlikely to aid him in his reelection bid.

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Three former opponents Bush wouldn't mind on his side right now.

Wolfgang Ischinger must have thought he got up on the wrong side of the bed.

"Thank you for being here today," President Bush addressed the German ambassador to the United States before a recent speech at the U.S. National Defense University.

For most of the past year, Ischinger and his bosses in Berlin have been getting the cold shoulder from Bush administration offficials. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision to join France and Russia in opposing America's decision to invade Iraq froze relations between the normally warm allies and prompted bursts of snide comments from both sides of the Atlantic.

Warming up for Schröder

Gerhard Schröder und George Bush Gespräch

Chancellor Schröder met with President Bush in Sept. 2003

But now the U.S. administration seems to be warming up to the wary Europeans in time for a meeting between President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in late February.

First, it was typically brash U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refraining from pressuring his German counterpart Peter Struck at the recent Munich International Security Conference into send soldiers to Iraq. Then U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, known for his hawkish, hard-line conservative views, followed, stressing the importance of cooperation with Germany during a recent visit to Berlin, according to online news site Spiegel Online.

High-level U.S. administration members have also made conciliatory steps toward France and Russia. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin announced after a visit with his U.S. colleague that the two would work together. In January, the U.S. ambassador to NATO told his colleagues in Brussels that it was time to let bygones be bygones.

Election year help from old friends

The Paris-based International Herald Tribune hit on the most probable reason for the new-found friendliness: With the U.S. Army tied up in Iraq, the Americans need the help of NATO and European manpower to give them a hand.

Others in Europe speculate that Bush is looking for support his reelection bid, though it seems a long-shot that Schröder, who is likely to find more common ground with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, would give the president a boost.

There may be some results to Bush's campaign of good will next week. Schröder's been invited to lunch at the White House during his visit to the United States -- and so has the press.

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