- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

LONDON — The White House has been meeting quietly with European ambassadors to Washington each week since October in an effort to include key allies in policy deliberations, European officials said yesterday.

The meetings were described by officials of the countries that participated as “brainstorming sessions.”

Although it is too early to tell whether the views expressed at those meetings will be taken into account in decision making, the officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the gatherings signal a “change in style” in the Bush administration’s dealings with them.

“The fact that those sessions exist is a sign of an increased interest in consultations,” one European official said. “We look forward to seeing actions that reflect this new style.”

Another official said all the participants have been pleased with the discussions, which have a different topic every week. The subjects are not limited to U.S.-European relations and include the Middle East, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The ambassadors of Britain, France and Germany are frequent participants, with envoys from Cold War foes, such as Poland, attending on occasion.

The National Security Council (NSC) decides whom to invite to each session, and the second official said the Spanish ambassador has not attended the meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Officials said the United States usually was represented at the meetings by Daniel Fried, the NSC’s director for European affairs, and some officials said National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley had attended some meetings.

The sessions are held in addition to regular briefings conducted by the NSC for various groups of ambassadors, such as those from the 28 countries that are part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq or those from a particular geographic region.

European officials said the new consultations are one of several signs that the administration has sent in the past few months showing its intention to listen to their views and opinions more than it did during the first term.

“There is an impression in Europe that there was a deficit of dialogue,” a French official said. “But the administration has been sending positive signals.”

A German official said there have been “gestures of an increased interest in dialogue” by the White House.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in London last night on the first leg of her first foreign trip since taking the post, several European officials said they were “cautiously optimistic” about the administration’s diplomacy in the next four years.

Last week, three words that President Bush uttered during Miss Rice’s swearing-in ceremony — “We love her” — reverberated throughout Europe. They knew she was close to Mr. Bush, but they had not heard a president speak of a Cabinet member in such personal terms.

“She is very welcome in Paris,” the French official said.

Miss Rice will deliver the key policy speech of her trip in Paris on Tuesday. She also is scheduled to visit Germany, Poland, Turkey, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as Israel and the West Bank.

Today, she is expected to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Later in the day, she plans to hold talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

European officials said they have many things to say to Miss Rice and hope she will hear them out.

“The Iraqi elections are healing some wounds,” the French official said in reference to Sunday’s vote, “but the real question now is what we do about important issues.”

For France, the official said, the three most pressing matters in the world today are Middle East peace, Iraq’s reconstruction and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The United States should be more involved in the peace process and pressure Israel more if need be,” the French official said. “It also needs to be more committed to the diplomatic solution of the Iran problem.”

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