On the eve of President Bush's Europe visit, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, told Deutsche Welle that the US and Europe were ready to bury past rifts and cooperate on divisive issues.
Kiss and make up: Solana, left, was welcoming to Condoleeza Rice
Deutsche Welle: Mr. Solana, US president George W. Bush is traveling to Europe this coming week. What do you think will come of this visit? How will the Europeans welcome the American President?
Javier Solana: I think the visit has every prospect of being a success. I think the current climate and atmosphere are much better than they were a couple of years, or even a couple of months ago. There was some dissonance in 2003 and 2004, especially over Iraq. But we have overcome our differences now. That's why I think the decision by President Bush and his new Secretary of State to choose Europe as the place to make their first overseas visits since the new presidential term started is a very positive gesture.
There's a debate currently over what role NATO should play in future relations between the Europeans and the US. A whole series of suggestions have been put forward on ways to improve the way we work together. What is your view on this debate?
I believe that everything that contributes toward making transatlantic relations more effective is good. Every debate in this direction is positive. I think that everyone accepts that transatlantic relations are no longer dealt with exclusively within the framework of NATO, but to a large degree also within EU institutions. This was very clearly highlighted by the many hours that Secretary Condoleezza Rice spent at the European Union. And now President Bush is coming to exchange views with leading European figures on the problems which exist between the EU and NATO. I believe this is positive and expresses the importance of the role of the European Union in transatlantic relations, and the common desire for Europeans and Americans to work together.
Despite all the conflicts going on in the world, there have been significant advances made, for example in the Middle East. How realistic is the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
Javier Solana, left, and Peter Hansen, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), inspect damage of a destroyed kindergarden during their tour in the norther Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, Wednesday Jan. 12, 2005.
I have been involved in the Middle East peace process for many years, but now for the first time I am very optimistic and I can see great opportunities. There is a path that both Israelis and Palestinians must tread together, accompanied by their friends. Both we Europeans and the Americans are their friends, and I believe we can join them on this path. But it won't be easy. There will be high and low points, and good times and bad. The most important thing is that we remain committed and show good will. I think that President Abbas is doing a good job, from the way the Palestinian election was run to what he's doing now. And Prime Minister Sharon has also made good decisions, like relaxing the restrictions on Palestinians so that people can enjoy a better standard of life, and the decision to remove settlements from the Gaza Strip. But I am well aware of the pitfalls. We have to keep our eyes open and be clear about our obligations. As I have said before, we have to be committed to providing help because there will be innumerable difficulties.
What can the European Union do to help Abbas end terrorism and to support the move towards peace?
The best that we can do to help him is to strengthen and train his police force. And that's what we're doing now. There's a team already working with the Palestinian security forces to help them function in the most efficient and effective way possible. That's important, but the political will to end terrorist activities is more important. President Abbas has made very clear statements on this and has acted accordingly. That must be recognized by the international community as well as by Israel.
The European Union is also in negotiations to persuade Iran not to build nuclear weapons. Can we expect success there as well?
Bushehr nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) southwest of Tehran.
We made considerable progress in the last few months. Iran has signed an additional protocol which allows inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Authority to visit sites across the country without giving prior notification. That means the IAEA can carry out a control function in Iran. The negotiations are being conducted on three levels at the same time: we're dealing with the nuclear arms issue, security aspects for Iran, and trade and economic relations between Iran and the EU. We hope that we will continue to make progress.
Does this mean that these subjects will be decided bilaterally between the Iranian government and the Europeans, or will the Americans have a say in the negotiations?
I think that the United States is not interested in joining the negotiations at this point in time. They can support them from the sidelines. As you know, the US has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and for this reason it is more difficult for them. In any case, if all goes well, the results will be seen in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Any agreement reached with Iran will have to be ratified by the IAEA board of governors, which is elected by nations in the IAEA, who are all members of the United Nations,
Can we now say that relations between the US and Europe are close and that there's been no break in the dialogue with the US? Is there agreement on how to implement common political strategies?
Yes, I think so. That follows on from what I said about the talks that we have held in the past few months. And I hope this will be underlined by President Bush and the leading political figures of the European Union.
Is there hope of an agreement, for example on the subject of China and the decision by the European Union to lift the weapons embargo on Beijing?
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, left, smiles as former EU Commission President Romano Prodi gestures during a media conference at the EU Commission Building in Brussels, Thursday, May 6, 2004.
All issues that we are in the process of negotiating are both difficult and delicate. Even so, I'm convinced that we can reach agreement. As far as China is concerned, I would like to emphasize that it is not about selling more weapons to China; rather it concerns the lifting of sanctions that the EU imposed on China during the Tiananmen Square crisis. Since then, many years have gone by and much has happened. A new generation is in charge in China now and we want to forge new relations which are not overshadowed by sanctions. For this reason, the lifting of the weapons embargo will be a political rather than a military gesture.