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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 20:32 GMT
Differences define allies' rhetoric
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News Website

He came, he saw, but he did not conquer.

Instead, on his visit to Europe, President Bush managed to achieve an uneasy truce.

President Bush in Bratislava
Few know whether President Bush really listened to European concerns
The White House will be pleased that there were no major rows and that a confident president got his views over without giving too much ground.

For Mr Bush, this visit was about getting over the divisions of the past and projecting his vision of the future - "planting the flag of freedom" around the world, as he puts it.

But the empty streets in the German city of Mainz, which cheered Mr Bush's father as president in 1989, spoke volumes about how this American leader is perceived in parts of old Europe.

He did better in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. His speech there, sprinkled with his usual references to freedom and liberty - 24 of one and seven of the other - did win applause from the crowd.

This was new Europe after all.

Underneath the change in tone, which has its importance, there are still differences of view on policies

The Europeans appeared unwilling to pick a fight and willing to look forward. They reckon Mr Bush has neither the manpower nor the money to fight another major war so they could accept his overtures with some grace.

Yet they still fear some more limited form of conflict in potential crises ahead.

And underneath the change in tone, which has its importance, there are still differences of view on policies.

And perhaps differences will in future increasingly define transatlantic relations.

The search will always be to narrow them but perhaps they will be the norm.

So what happened to these issues?

IRAQ

Mr Bush's most successful tactic was to side-step this, which was the one, above all others, which had led to such bitterness. He was not put on the hook.

Elections in Iraq helped him to present this not as an American problem so much as an Iraqi success.

The violence though has continued unabated after the election. Even on the last day of his visit, policemen were blown up in Tikrit. But it hardly impinged on the tour.

IRAN

The president did offer a concession to the Europeans who are trying to negotiate a permanent end to Iran's programme to enrich uranium. He said he would consider how the US might help these talks. Previously the US had dismissed them. It might still do so in due course. This is one to watch.

MIDDLE EAST

Here again Mr Bush was helped by events - the Palestinian elections and the resumption of contacts with Israel. He did however go out of his way to stress the need for a viable Palestinian state with contiguity on the West Bank. His language here was much stronger than in the past.

CHINA

This issue also has not yet come to the fore. The EU is likely to lift the arms embargo it imposed in 1989 after the suppression of protests. A Code of Conduct covering all arms exports would replace it but the US fears this would be weaker and that China would thereby become better armed in any confrontation with Taiwan which the US is pledged to help.

KYOTO

Nobody mentioned this much. There were some mumblings about technology being the way forward and talk of joint discussions but not much more. Again, Mr Bush managed to avoid a row.

RUSSIA

Russia has been a disappointment to the West in recent years and Mr Bush managed to get the news conference that followed his meeting with Mr Putin in Bratislava to concentrate largely on the meaning of democracy. The Russian president was forced to explain and justify his understanding of the concept, very much on the defensive.

All in all, given the state of play before and after the war in Iraq, things are quite calm.

They might not remain so indefinitely.


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