Washington (AFP) July 29, 2007
Europe under a new generation of leaders is taking a more muscular role in diplomacy while the enfeebled US administration struggles with Iraq, foreign-policy experts say. Britain, France and Germany are all now under new leadership compared to four years ago, when the United States plunged transatlantic relations into their worst crisis for decades with its invasion of Iraq.
"You look at the European Union now and you see the big three member states all have real leadership," said Karen Donfried, executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic think-tank.
"This is a real opportunity, particularly for a US president who's a lame duck and has limited power," she said.
President George W. Bush's administration denies any notion that the Europeans are rushing to fill a diplomatic vacuum left by US difficulties in Iraq.
"We look at this new generation of leaders in the UK, France and Germany as an excellent opportunity," a State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
"There are many opportunities for expanded engagement. We're upbeat," he said, citing Afghanistan as one instance of strategic transatlantic cooperation.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who succeeded Jacques Chirac as president of France two months ago, is stepping up French attempts to end a standoff between Lebanon's bitterly divided political parties.
Last week Sarkozy sprung a landmark visit to Libya following its release of six long-jailed foreign medics. French junior minister for human rights Rama Yade says Paris had its hopes set next for the release of Myanmar's jailed democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
"France, as the cradle of human rights, has a duty more than any other country to defend fundamental rights," said Yade, who declared herself "happy to see that, in this field, France is back."
Darfur is an intended destination of Sarkozy and Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, as London and Paris seek to galvanize stalled diplomatic efforts to broker peace in the blood-soaked Sudanese region.
For Brown, who is due Sunday at Camp David for talks with Bush, Africa's deprivation is a scar on the West's conscience that demands immediate action.
Overall, analysts say, the diplomatic ambitions of the new crop of European leaders are a welcome balm to years of transatlantic mistrust generated under the unilateralist Bush administration.
"I do not think this disconcerts the US administration," said Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, a Dutch professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
"The US is bogged down in Iraq and Congress is thinking only about Iraq. So any new European initiatives I would argue are welcomed, as long as they are not going against US interests," she said.
Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, joined in Bush's Iraq enterprise but left office last month and is now the Middle East envoy for diplomatic powers vying to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Brown and Sarkozy have joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who succeeded Gerhard Schroeder in November 2005, at the helm of Europe's leading powers.
Merkel has been no slouch at promoting international action on issues like global warming, where the Bush administration has retreated to the sidelines.
Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Europe's new leaders were not positioning themselves as a counterweight to US diplomacy, but as a "supplement."
"One could imagine Chirac and Schroeder trying to create a European foreign policy that would undermine US foreign policy. But what you have here is people who are fundamentally in synch with the United States," he said.
Washington has backed Britain in its standoff with Russia over President Vladimir Putin's refusal to extradite the chief suspect in the London poisoning of a former KGB agent.
The growing belligerence of Russia under Putin appears to have reminded Europe and the United States of the security and economic ties that have bound them intimately since World War II.
"Alliances are kept together not just by niceness between partners but by external forces," Mead said, pointing also to the rise of China and India as long-term strategic challenges for the transatlantic partnership.
"Europe and America are natural partners, even if sometimes they feel sick of each other."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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