- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

President Bush will host a “working dinner” with French President Jacques Chirac, who opposed the war in Iraq, when he visits European leaders in Brussels next month, the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since Mr. Bush was re-elected.

Mr. Bush’s Feb. 21 meeting with Mr. Chirac conforms to his promise to reach out to European leaders in his second term and will kick off a three-nation trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia.

“The president looks forward to working together with President Chirac and all our European allies and partners to strengthen freedom, democracy and security throughout the world,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.

Much of Europe, however, was not among Mr. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to liberate Iraq, with France leading the opposition to the U.S.-led action. Mr. Chirac has worked to develop the European Union and France’s alliance with Germany as a foil to U.S. influence in the world.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — who opposed the Iraq war but rejected Mr. Chirac’s call for their nations to serve as a united counterbalance to the United States — will meet with Mr. Bush in Germany. The president will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Slovakia.

In recent weeks, Mr. Chirac has softened his stance against the United States, saying in his annual foreign policy speech on Jan. 6 that “we will go into the new year with unity, trust and determination” and that he looked forward to “opportunities to show the vitality of the trans-Atlantic link.”

Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser for the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Nothing’s been forgotten and nothing’s been forgiven” between Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac, but that both sides deserve credit for realizing it is time to put old clashes behind them.

“I think the way President Bush handled the renewal of America’s relations with Europe since November 2 has been very good,” Mr. Serfaty said. “Bush has set the stage, and he ought to get credit for it.

“He knows they are going to flog him over there, but he’s saying that whether you like me or not, I want to work with you. Really, I do,” he said.

Nile Gardiner, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation specializing in trans-Atlantic relations, said this meeting “is far more important for Chirac than it is for Bush.”

“I think from a French point of view, it’s important to try to re-establish political ties with Washington,” Mr. Gardiner said. “However, for Bush, the French are not an essential part of the president’s long-term foreign policy outlook.

“France is a declining nation on the world stage that still clings to delusions of grandeur,” Mr. Gardiner said. “Bush will be acutely aware that Chirac’s ultimate goal is the creation of a united Europe as a counterbalance to the United States. There is a distrust between them that will not evaporate in meetings of this nature.”

Mr. Chirac was “humiliated” by Mr. Bush’s re-election, Mr. Gardiner said, adding that he wouldn’t expect the French president “to eat humble pie” during the working dinner.

“The Bush doctrine of freedom and liberty across the Middle East is anathema to French strategy,” Mr. Gardiner said. “They see it as unrealistic.”

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