- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

President Bush pledged yesterday to visit Europe shortly after his second inauguration in January as part of an effort to improve relations with European allies after bitter disputes over Iraq during his first term.

“In my second term, I will work to deepen our trans-Atlantic ties with the nations of Europe,” Mr. Bush said at a White House press conference with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“I intend to visit Europe as soon as possible after my inauguration,” he said. “My government will continue to work through the NATO alliance and with the European Union to strengthen cooperation between Europe and America.”

The president said that only the “combined strength and moral purpose” of Europe and the United States can “effectively fight terror” and “overcome poverty and disease and despair” in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

“In all that lies ahead in the defense of freedom, in the advance of democracy, and the spread of prosperity, America, the United Kingdom, and all of Europe must act together,” he said.

Mr. Blair, who has been Mr. Bush’s strongest ally in Iraq, also emphasized the importance of a good relationship between the United States and Europe.

“I think there is a tremendous desire and willingness on the part of, certainly, our partners in the European Union to make sure that that alliance is strong,” he said. “It’s necessary for the security of the world. It’s necessary for us to be able to tackle many of the problems that confront us.”

As the two leaders were meeting yesterday, the Dutch government, another ally of the Bush administration, said that it would pull its 1,350 troops out of Iraq in March, as planned.

Dutch officials suggested, however, that an extension might be considered under unforeseen circumstances.

The State Department urged the Netherlands, as well as other countries contemplating withdrawal, to extend their deployments.

“Certainly, at any given moment there are people coming, there are people leaving. The coalition has had some turnover, and we expect it will continue to have some turnover,” spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“We’ll keep talking to them and we’ll keep looking at the situation on the ground,” he said. “In the end, the overall level of deployment should depend not on dates on the calendar but, rather, on the needs of the Iraqis for security.”

Diplomats and analysts welcomed Mr. Bush’s pledge to mend fences with Europe, but they said achieving that goal in practice may prove more difficult than it seems.

“Europe and the United States will continue to face deep strategic divisions over the pillars of their relationship as they strive to tackle major global challenges like Iraq, Iran and the Middle East,” said Julianne Smith, deputy director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“What is needed now is not a short visit by America’s strongest European ally, but a broader strategic debate with all the major European players at the table,” she said. “Only then can a new dialogue begin.”

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