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EU leaders ready to work with Bush

Major trans-Atlantic issues remain to be resolved

By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Many Europeans did not want George W. Bush to win a second term.

According to opinion pollsters, Poland was the only one of 25 European Union states in which there was a majority of support for the incumbent U.S. president rather than for his Democratic rival John Kerry.

But now he has been re-elected, most European leaders are ready to bury their past differences with the White House over Iraq and find a way of working with Bush.

In return they hope that, second time around, Bush will be more inclined to make use of multilateral institutions rather than working with "coalitions of the willing" and that he will be more willing to consult with his allies.

The EU and the United States have, for the moment, calmed their trade row over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing. But the Europeans are not hopeful that the U.S. will suddenly change its approach on global warming and the Kyoto agreement.

The Europeans are also frustrated by the weak dollar, which is driving up the level of the euro and making life difficult for European exporters.

Many in Europe were sad to have lost Colin Powell as secretary of state. They felt that he was one of the "listeners" in the Bush administration, even if he did not always get his way when tussling with the Pentagon and with Vice-President Dick Cheney. Nor were they cheered by the survival in the Bush second-term clear out of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, seen in some quarters as a man keen to play divide and rule with Old Europe and New Europe.

But some see new hope in Powell's replacement, Condoleeza Rice, who said during her Senate confirmation hearings that it was now the time for diplomacy. They noted that she also nodded vigorously towards the use of multilateral institutions and went out of her way to praise the U.S. administration's foes over Iraq, France and Germany, for their efforts to help curb nuclear proliferation.

The one thing that EU countries would like to see above all from Bush is a real effort to live up to his promises to put new vigor into the Middle East peace process. They hope that, with no re-election to work for this time, he may be prepared to exert greater pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions in the search for peace.

Even Bush's closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has signaled his frustration with the lack of progress on the Middle East, to which Bush has pledged to devote as much time and effort as Blair has done to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Potential flash points remain over Syria -- treated as a pariah by the U.S. but recently given privileged trading status by the EU -- and on the question of arms sales to China.

Another hot issue is Iran. The EU -- with efforts led by France, Britain and Germany -- has sought to engage the current leadership in Tehran and to persuade them not to engage in a nuclear armaments program by holding out trade agreements, an approach which is greeted with skepticism in Washington, where stories have surfaced suggesting the U.S. is ready to contemplate military action.

Even an ally like Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, has declared it "inconceivable" that a second-term Bush administration would bomb Iran, but that is not the way it is seen by some neo-conservative supporters of the president.

On China, Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern -- in Beijing this week with a group of Irish businessmen -- said that it was likely that the EU would end its arms embargo within the next few months.

Javier Solana, the EU's international affairs policy chief, said after a recent visit to Washington that he did not believe there would be big objections from the U.S. were that to happen. But some U.S. officials have responded that in that case Solana was not listening.

The U.S. remains committed to protecting Taiwan from any bullying by mainland China and would be furious to find itself facing weapons supplied by its NATO allies in Europe if it came to fighting. But the EU is now China's biggest trading partner and even traditional allies like the Dutch and the British support a lifting of the arms embargo.

The EU says the U.S. should not fuss and that it will apply a strict code of conduct on any arms sales to China, but Washington finds that less than reassuring. No moves to end the arms ban are likely though before Bush makes a goodwill visit to the EU and to NATO at the end of February. This early in the new administration's life, no one wants to be provocative.


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