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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 15:58 UK

Analysis: All change in US-EU ties?

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC's diplomatic correspondent

US President George W Bush in London
President Bush still has some six months in office
With US President George W Bush nearing the end of his time in the White House, this is inevitably a period of transition in relations between Europe and America.

Much has changed since the bitter trans-Atlantic divisions prompted by the US invasion of Iraq.

In many ways, these were divisions within Europe as much as between European capitals and Washington.

The governments in France and Germany were especially hostile to the US approach, prompting the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make his famous - though not perhaps entirely accurate - distinction between "old and new Europe".

This farewell tour by President Bush was very much focussed on "old Europe". Though it began in Slovenia which holds the current presidency of the European Union, it then took in Italy, Germany, France and Britain.

US President George W Bush (left) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris

New, more Atlanticist leaders in both Paris and Berlin have contributed to smoothing over some of the tensions of the past.

Mr Bush, too, has learnt lessons, softening his style, admitting in interviews that some of the rhetoric that appeared to drive America to war in Iraq was ill-judged.

'Softer' president

In London at the end of his trip, President Bush declared that his legacy would be "a multilateral approach to dealing with tyrants".

It may not quite be that the Americans are from Mars and the Europeans from Venus. But in many ways Europe and the US display different mentalities, different ways of looking at the world

But he remained no less committed to the basic propositions that have underpinned his strategy.

Still, there was the profound belief that the free world is engaged in an ideological struggle against the forces of terror and disorder.

His belief that forms of government matter and in the transformative effects of freedom and democracy remains undiminished.

Nonetheless this was, in some ways, a softer president than many Europeans have seen before.

And the growing US emphasis on multilateralism, whether it be in dealing with Iran or North Korea's nuclear programme, or in tackling the great issues of the day - like global trade and the environment - looks set to pre-figure any change in style by the next administration.

It is easy to write off this trip as a farewell tour by a lame duck president.

But Mr Bush still has some six months in office. There is still business to be done. And in the post-9/11 world it is impossible to ignore the fact that events will shape the closing months of the Bush era just as they shaped its opening.

Events may well also have a profound effect upon the US presidential race itself.

Iran warning

President Bush has used this European tour to set the groundwork for the ratcheting up of pressure on Iran.

Iranians must understand, however, that all options are on the table
US President Bush

The stage is set for possible EU sanctions against Tehran if the Iranians reject the latest offer of civil nuclear co-operation in return for the abandonment of their enrichment programme.

In London, inevitably, there was more practical work to be done - not least because in the part of Britain's relationship with the US that remains "special" - its military and security ties - there is so much going on.

Britain seems to have backed away from any early troop pull-out from Iraq.

For good measure it has actually agreed to reinforce its presence in Afghanistan.

In the longer term, these two missions are not sustainable given the overstretch afflicting Britain's relatively small armed forces.

It is in the British national interest to confront the Taleban in Afghanistan or Afghanistan would come to us
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown

But the view of the government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seems to be that both missions can be sustained for just a bit longer.

If a new US president comes in committed to a more ambitious withdrawal plan then Britain, too, can pull out the bulk of its forces from southern Iraq.

Chemistry

Of course, Mr Brown does not share the same empathy with President Bush as his predecessor, Tony Blair, did.

Public opinion in Europe will certainly be glad to see the back of Mr Bush

Personal chemistry between leaders matters. Indeed, better chemistry between Mr Bush and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has undoubtedly contributed to a waning of trans-Atlantic tensions.

So what of the future?

Public opinion in Europe will certainly be glad to see the back of Mr Bush.

Equally, the growing fascination with the drama of the US presidential race may well help to rehabilitate America's reputation in some quarters. For many analysts it has become commonplace to assert that all will be different once President Bush leaves office.

Some believe a new era of American multilateralism will dissolve once and for all the tensions of the recent past.

But this is to misjudge far more fundamental forces that are at work that may well increase the distance across the Atlantic whatever the outcome of this November's presidential election.

'Different mentalities'

Britain's much-vaunted "special relationship" with Washington provides an interesting perspective on wider US-European ties.

The people's decision has to be respected and we have to chart a way through
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin

Indeed, some analysts would argue that Tony Blair's departure exposed structural changes in Anglo-US ties that have been reinforced in the post-9/11 world.

For one thing Europe - a region of relative stability - looms less large in US thinking, which is focused more on the Middle East and Asia.

A concern in Washington that the EU might develop into some kind of rival power centre to the US has proved groundless.

As the rejection of the Lisbon reform treaty by Irish voters last week has shown, Europe is obsessed with its own internal issues, and a larger EU is inevitably going to be less coherent abroad.

Ties between London and Washington will remain strong, not least because of the close military and security relationships that Britain will not be eager to relinquish.

But in approaching many of the big issues of the day like terrorism, Middle East peace, or global warming, Britain tends increasingly towards a more European rather than an American outlook.

It may not quite be that the Americans are from Mars and the Europeans from Venus, but in many ways Europe and the US display different mentalities, different ways of looking at the world.

And this trend is likely to continue, whoever takes the helm in the White House next year.

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