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President Bush Seeks to Strengthen Ties with European Nations

President Bush arrived in Brussels, Belgium on Monday for a five-day fence-mending trip with European allies. The president asked Europe to become a full partner in his vision to spread freedom while urging Russia to renew its commitment to democracy. Three analysts discuss the president's trip to Europe.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    President Bush began his five-day European trip with a courtesy call to Belgium's monarchs. After meeting with King Albert and Queen Paola, the president delivered his speech in the ornate ballroom of the Brussels Concert Noble Hall. Before an audience of business leaders, academics, and diplomats, he called for a "new era of transatlantic unity," saying the debates of the past two years will fade away.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    In a new century, the alliance of Europe and North America is the main pillar of our security. Our robust trade is one of the engines of the world's economy. Our example of economic and political freedom gives hope to millions who are weary of poverty and oppression.

    In all these ways, our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The president said that although the U.S. and Europeans have frequently been divided over the Middle East, the time had come to band together to foster peace in the region.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Our efforts are guided by a clear vision. We're determined to see two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

    The Palestinian people deserve a government that is representative, honest, and peaceful. The people of Israel need an end to terror and a reliable, steadfast partner for peace, and the world must not rest until there is a just and lasting resolution to this conflict. Our shared commitment to democratic progress is being tested in Lebanon, a once thriving country that now suffers under the influence of an oppressive neighbor.

    Just as the Syrian regime must take stronger action to stop those who support violence and subversion in Iraq, it must end its support for terrorist groups seeking to destroy the hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Syria must also end its occupation of Lebanon. The Lebanese people have the right to be free, and the United States and Europe share an interest in a democratic, independent Lebanon.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    President Bush also urged the Europeans to help Iraq's fledgling democracy and keep Iran from becoming a nuclear state.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Now is the time for established democracies to give tangible political, economic, and security assistance to the world's newest democracy. In Iran, the free world shares a common goal. For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism and must not develop nuclear weapons.

    In safeguarding the security of free nations, no option can be taken permanently off the table. Iran is, however, different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy. The United States is a member of the IAEA Board of Governors, which has taken the lead on this issue. We're working closely with Britain, France, and Germany as they oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, and as they insist that Tehran comply with international law.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The president also called for pressure on Russia to stop squelching democracy.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    I also believe that Russia's future lies within the family of Europe and the transatlantic community. America supports WTO membership for Russia, because meeting WTO standards will strengthen the gains of freedom and prosperity in that country.

    Yet for Russia to make progress as a European nation, the Russian government must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We recognize that reform will not happen overnight. We must always remind Russia, however, that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power, and the rule of law.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    This evening President Bush joined French President Jacques Chirac, one of his harshest critics on the war in Iraq, for a private dinner.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    We get three views now, two American and one European. Richard Burt was assistant secretary of state for European affairs and U.S. ambassador to West Germany during the Reagan administration. He's now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. During the 1990s, he was a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee. And Marc Chavannes is Washington bureau chief for NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch newspaper.

    Marc Chavannes, both in his selection of issues to highlight and in the tone, is this a good start if this is really a fence-mending expedition to Europe for the president?

  • MARC CHAVANNES:

    I think it is. The president visibly and audibly realized he was speaking to a European audience. He didn't use the button catch phrases that his election campaign gave such a cheerful outlook.

    And he managed to say a lot of, touch on a lot of ground that people like to hear. And he started out, for instance, with the Palestinian-Israeli question, which people wanted to hear about. So I would say it was a very good start.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Richard Burt:

  • RICHARD BURT:

    Well I agree it was a very good start. I think the president did say the right things. He talked about the European-American relationship being the essential pillar. He endorsed European unification.

    But I don't think he really put a dent in the real task ahead, which is really restructuring the European-American relationship. I think there are really two tasks that Europeans and Americans have to tackle together.

    The first is political. The United States has to be willing to give the Europeans more access to the American policy-making process, and the Europeans have to be willing once a common position is hammered out to take some of the tough actions that are necessary to work with the Americans.

    And secondly institutionally, we're simply not working well together. The United States wants to use NATO as the forum for discussing international security, but as Chancellor Schroeder said about a week ago, the Americans need to understand that the European Union is now the focal point of politics in Europe. We have to find a way to talk to the Europeans vis-à-vis the European Union.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And Thomas Donnelly, how do you think the president did?

  • THOMAS DONNELLY:

    Well, the rhetoric was great. Maybe the institutions can be re-jiggered and fixed. But I'm not sure that the substantive differences between the United States and Europe are amenable to salvation by rhetoric or by new institutions.

    The substantive, strategic differences are pretty large and possibly even growing. And even if we could talk to one another or find the right venue for exchanging views over the Middle East or other issues of international politics, that really wouldn't solve the fundamental differences of view that we've seen in the last couple of years and again that I would expect we'd see exacerbated in the future.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Marc Chavannes, do you agree that the splits are so wide that a trip like this doesn't even scratch at the surface of healing some of these breeches?

  • MARC CHAVANNES:

    Well, in the run-up to the trip, it sometimes sounded here in Washington as if the administration thought that Europe would go out and cheer his arrival just because he was kind enough to make it his first foreign trip in his second term and because he was planning to say kind words.

    But at the same time people in Europe feel sort of lonely without the friendship with the Americans, if they're honest. And a lot of issues have been negative from Kyoto to the ICC, to Iraq, it has been a bewildering estrangement, but I think people are willing to listen and a lot of the stuff the president touched upon today was positive.

    He said quite strong words to his soul mate Vladimir Putin. He said words about Syria that sounded serious, and again the Middle East, what we used to call the Middle East problem, the Israeli-Palestinian problem, he really dealt with it. And he got something going there. So I think a lot of people are willing to build upon that.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, Richard Burt, the president referred to Europe as the main pillar of our security. Given what you just heard from your two colleagues, talk about that divergence. Is this something that both sides can really live with and still work together? Or are there some things they're never going to see eye to eye on?

  • RICHARD BURT:

    Well, that's really the critical question. I think that the European-American relationship despite what you heard the president and for example Jacques Chirac say today is at a turning point. And it's an unstable turning point.

    The relationship is either going to get better because both sides of the Atlantic recognize its strategic value, as the president seemed to do today, or it is going to get worse. And there are signs of both. For instance, in the Arab-Israeli process, in the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the United States and the Europeans appear to be coming together. It's early days, but the president said some very important things today about the need to recognize Palestinian interests in this process that he didn't say in the first administration. And that will be very important to bringing the Europeans on board to a common approach to getting an agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

    On Iran, on the other hand, despite what is said, they're still far apart. The Europeans are pursuing what people call a carrot strategy. They're offering the Europeans — the Iranians economic inducements to give up their nuclear weapons program. The Americans have isolated themselves from the Iranians and are pursuing really a stick strategy when clearly a combined strategy, one that offered normalization to the Iranians by the United States and the Europeans together and a sanctions strategy, if that failed, is the way to go.

    It requires compromise by both sides. Now if this relationship is as important as everyone says it is, there has to be a willingness to compromise. And so far, there isn't a lot of evidence beyond the rhetoric that both sides are prepared as they were during the Cold War, given the imminence of the Soviet threat, are they today prepared to make the necessary compromise to address issues like Iran, terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Thomas Donnelly, you heard some very rough rhetoric on Iran from senior Americans in the preceding weeks, but today the president endorsed the European effort to keep Iran non-nuclear.

  • THOMAS DONNELLY:

    Yeah. Look, I think there is a de facto cooperative strategy against Iran even though there isn't, you know, a lot of high-level summitry in which all the parties are present and deals are discussed. The United States is playing the sort of stick role, the bad cop role and the Europeans are playing the carrot role or the good cop role. And they do complement one another.

    But it's really up to the Iranians at the end of the day and it seems reasonably clear at this point that Tehran has made a pretty gut-level, hard-core decision that it wishes to pursue its nuclear program for reasons that are sui-generous and neither the Europeans with the carrot approach or the Americans with a stick approach can deter them.

    I mean possibly we can rescue this situation but the approach taken by Europe and the United States are not really fundamentally at odds I don't think. But there are still a host of other problems in the Middle East. And one thing that was not discussed today was the question of the European arms embargo on or lifting the European arms embargo on the People's Republic of China which would be a big, big problem if that does come to pass.

    Certainly the Bush administration deserves some criticism for not raising that issue before a European audience. But there's still a lot more problems out there than they are even sort of de facto places of agreement.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Richard Burt, you were a senior administration foreign policy officer. When something like that, like not lifting or lifting the arms embargo on China, is left out of a speech that covered a wide range of topics today, is there some art to that? Is that being held for later? Is that something that's just too divisive to talk about?

  • RICHARD BURT:

    I do think there's some art to it. What I think is happening is that very quietly we are engaging the Europeans on this issue. In fact, the Europeans are apparently moving closer to the U.S. position. They are, I think, going to go forward with lifting the embargo.

    And we should remember the embargo was put on under political circumstances as a reaction to Tiananmen Square. And you can argue that it is at this point obsolete. But what the Europeans are saying now is they will not quantitatively or qualitatively change their existing arms deliveries to the Chinese so I think you're going to see, I think an effort to try to negotiate a solution to this problem.

    But I think though going back to the issue of Iran, which is very important, I don't think that the good cop/bad cop strategy works. And it doesn't work because the good cop is not prepared to think about taking tough action against the Iranians if the strategy fails, namely the Europeans. And the bad cop has already, as President Bush himself has said, we don't have much leverage over Iran. Until or unless we're able to offer the Iranians some improvement in the relationship, we have no leverage.

    And what I'm concerned about if we could see another situation at the U.N. Security Council, not as bad perhaps as the debate over Iraq, but still very — some very serious differences, if the United States goes to the Security Council, asks for sanctions and the Europeans don't want to take those steps.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Marc Chavannes, earlier you mentioned the international criminal court, the ICC, and Kyoto. Was there a sense in Europe until November and the election of let's wait and see before we move on that now leaves Europe with a re-elected George Bush ready to just go ahead without the United States on certain international projects like the court?

  • MARC CHAVANNES:

    I think on the one hand Europeans thought that George Bush's – if not a fluke – he might be a one-termer. Now they found out that the Americans clearly voted for him for a second term. So it's a pragmatic course of action to try and work with him.

    At the same time, those points like the Kyoto climate treaty and the international criminal court are matters that are serious to Europeans. They are not willing to let go just because George Bush was reelected We Europeans didn't have a vote. And some Americans think that's a wonderful thing about the American Constitution.

    I think if George Bush would really have wanted to prove that he means business when he says we together are crucial to the American security then he could have come with some gesture about, for instance, letting the Security Council say the international criminal court should look into Darfur or something about climate control. I mean, do the arctic have to melt all the way before he admits that there is a problem?

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Neither of these things being mentioned today was also significant then in your view?

  • MARC CHAVANNES:

    It was an opportunity missed. He could have — of course, nobody expected him to say I was wrong all along. But he could have made some openings on those two points and he didn't.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Marc Chavannes, Richard Burt, Thomas Donnelly, thank you all.

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