- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Reading the op-ed pages in the American and European press one gets the impression that the trans-Atlantic relationship is in deep crisis. America seems to have discovered a new way of "Euro-bashing," accusing Europe of a policy towards Israel and the Middle East increasingly influenced by anti-Zionism or even anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, European commentators express equally deep concern about alleged militaristic tendencies of the United States, about American unilateralism and about U.S. plans to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad. Are we heading for a serious "trans-Atlantic rift"? How bad are things really?

My answer to this question is: not so bad. Actually, things are pretty good. Paradoxically, the reality of trans-Atlantic cooperation is much better than the public perception. Never before have we agreed on so many issues as today:

Take the relationship with Russia. For decades the relationship with Moscow was a contentious issue in trans-Atlantic relations. In the early 1980s, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in the streets of European capitals against the deployment of U.S. Pershing missiles as a response to the deployment of Soviet intermediate-range missiles. Today, Europeans and Americans agree that we should support Russian President Vladimir Putin as he opens Russia to the West and that we should seize the tremendous opportunities offered by closer cooperation with Russia. With the new NATO-Russia Council and with the new U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty, a new chapter of our relationship with Russia has started. Europe will applaud President Bush when he signs the new treaty in Moscow next week. Europeans and Americans agree that enlarging NATO will further strengthen security and stability in Europe, together with EU enlargement. Thanks to a continuing joint European-U.S. effort, the Balkan region is a safer and more stable place today than it was five years ago.

In 1990, the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, helped Germany to become united again. Today, the United States and her European allies are about to take a further decisive step towards achieving a just and stable peace for the whole of Europe, which has been our goal for more than 50 years. NATO enlargement, another issue on which we agree, will ratify the achievement, finally, of a "Europe whole and free."

Europeans and Americans are also united when it comes to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The European response to September 11 such as 200,000 Germans gathering at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to express their solidarity with the United States underscored that America has no more reliable partner at moments of crisis than Europe. For Germany, September 11 brought a qualitative leap: For the first time since World War II, Germany committed troops outside of Europe, making available more than 5,000 soldiers for the international coalition against terrorism. Today, our special forces are fighting side by side with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Finally, we also agree on the principles and objectives of a political solution in the Middle East, including the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state. Those who accuse Europeans of anti-Zionism or even anti-Semitism are wrong. Chancellor Gerhard recently reaffirmed that support for Israel's right to exist and its security within recognized borders are an unalterable foundation of German foreign policy. Are Americans sufficiently aware of the fact that Germany is Israel's second most important partner, next to the United States?

I truly believe that questioning the moral values of the partners on the other side of the Atlantic is as unnecessary as it is false. Europeans feel insulted when they are confronted with charges of anti-Semitism, and Americans are equally upset when they are described as brutally unilateralist, power-hungry and militaristic. These mutual recriminations will lead us nowhere.

There are, of course, issues on which Europeans and Americans disagree, such as the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto protocol, tariffs on steel, or the death penalty. However, let's keep things in perspective. More than 98 percent of trans-Atlantic trade goes without a hitch. Our economic relationship surpasses that of any other two regions in the world, registering a trade volume of more than $400 billion a year.

Let us make no mistake: There is no strategic alternative to the trans-Atlantic partnership neither politically nor economically. Only together can the United States and European Union successfully work toward peace, democracy, human rights, security, prosperity and free trade. Two things are needed: America's willingness to take Europe seriously, and Europe's determination to create the capabilities necessary to assume its share of global responsibilities. And we need an open debate about how best to address such challenges as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, how best to deal with military and non-military threats and their causes, such as hunger, poverty, fundamentalism and "failing states." These are complex questions without simple and easy answers and they deserve to be the focus of serious trans-Atlantic debate.

Today, Mr. Bush will be the first U.S. president to speak at the Reichstag in Berlin. This will be an emotional moment for my country; for Berlin owes its freedom to no one more than to America. But there is more to this visit than emotions and history. Mr. Bush's trip will demonstrate that we do stand united in a joint struggle for a world built on common values such as human rights, democracy and justice. If we live up to this joint responsibility, there will be a bright future for the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Wolfgang Ischinger is the German ambassador to the United States.

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