- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

U.S.-European cooperation in Ukraine’s political crisis and in the Indian Ocean tsunami relief effort shows that both sides are ready to move past the angry differences that marked President Bush’s first term, a leading European Union foreign-policy official said yesterday.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, commissioner for external relations for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said at the start of a Washington visit that Mr. Bush’s decision to visit Brussels next month as one of his first second-term foreign trips was a strong symbol that both sides want to clear the air.

“We will do everything we can on our part to make the visit a success,” said Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner, a former Austrian foreign minister who replaced Briton Chris Patten in the European Commission foreign-policy slot.

“EU [and] the U.S. are going through a period of renewal, because we have seen recently how much we can do when we reinforce each other’s message,” she said. “There is a new commission running the EU and a new term for the U.S. administration. We are ready to reach out.”

Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner is the first European commissioner to visit Washington since the November elections. She met yesterday with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Powell’s designated successor; Stephen Hadley, who will succeed Miss Rice as national security adviser; and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

The U.S.-led war in Iraq divided Europe, with EU powers France and Germany leading international opposition to the war. Mr. Bush’s staunch opposition to the ballistic-missile treaty with Russia, the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto global warming pact also proved unpopular with many in Europe.

But even on Iraq, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner took a much softer line yesterday than Mr. Patten, an ardent critic of the war, had.

Whatever the past, “it is crucial for all of us now that the [Iraqi] elections go fairly,” she said. “I think we really have to close the chapter on our past disagreements, because now we have the same objective — a stable, prosperous Iraq.”

The European Commission in November approved a $41 million assistance package to Iraqi election officials to carry out the Jan. 30 vote, part of what EU officials say is $422 million in European aid to Iraq since the war.

American and EU officials coordinated closely in the Ukraine crisis, backing popular protests that led to the invalidation of a rigged presidential vote in November and the election of pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in the Dec. 26 rerun of the vote.

The United States, the European Union and individual European countries have pledged more than $2 billion to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner this week proposed the creation of a 5,000-strong EU civilian “crisis management corps” to deal with similar natural disasters in the future.

The United States and the European Union had clashed over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the death of the polarizing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat opens the way for renewed trans-Atlantic cooperation on the Middle East peace process, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner said.

The European Commission on Wednesday restarted talks on a trade deal with Iran. The Bush administration has taken a far more skeptical line on engagement with Tehran, which both American and EU officials fear is pushing to develop nuclear weapons.

Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner said there were no preconditions to the trade talks, but said EU officials have made it clear to Iran that no final deal can be reached until there is separate progress on issues such as human rights, fighting terrorism and nonproliferation.

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