Europe offers to seeks new beginning with Bush

PARIS - European allies alienated by President Bush's first four years in power offered Wednesday to let bygones be bygones, saying they want to work with the new administration and seeking, right from Day 1, to get the new White House to listen more to overseas opinion.

French President Jacques Chirac, in a congratulatory letter, said he hoped Bush's second term "will be the occasion for strengthening the French-American friendship."

"We will be unable to find satisfying responses to the numerous challenges that confront us today without a close trans-Atlantic partnership," wrote Chirac. He addressed the letter to "Dear George."

Another critic of the Iraq war, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his government wants "a relationship of efficient, constructive cooperation with the U.S. government and with President Bush, respecting the ideas of each side."

Zapatero, who angered Washington by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, stayed up most of the night to watch as Republican red crept across the U.S. electoral map.

Election interest in Europe was intense, as was the disappointment many felt over Bush's victory. Some saw it as proof that Europe and the United States are further apart than ever.

"There is a major and lasting lack of understanding between the American people and the rest of the world, in both directions," said Hubert Vedrine, a former French foreign minister. "Almost all nations, with perhaps three or four exceptions, wanted change."

Others worried that Bush, strengthened by a bigger win than in 2000 and backed by a Republican Congress, would turn a deaf ear to world concerns.

"Europe will continue to criticize Bush the same way as earlier," said Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson. "But I do not believe that he will be more willing to listen."

Karsten Voigt, the German Foreign Ministry's top official for relations with Washington, said he hoped Bush would seize the chance for "a new beginning" with Europe.

The U.S. leader would do well to "approach the Europeans ... and say, let us sit down and talk about where we have common interests," Voigt said. "That is necessary on the Middle East, it is necessary and possible in fighting terrorism and in the question of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but it is also needed in the question of AIDS, climate protection and other issues."

Although Germany has offered help rebuild Iraq and is training new Iraqi police and military, Voigt said "the German military will not be sent to Iraq."

Bush allies in the war on terror took comfort in continuity.

"From our point of view, the Bush administration is a known quantity," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. "We've had a very good relationship with them for the last four years and I'm sure we'll be able to keep building on that over the next four."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Bush victory would mean the American people had not given in to terrorist threats.

"I would feel happy that the American people have not allowed themselves to be scared and made the decision they considered reasonable," Putin said at a Kremlin news conference after talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"Bush will keep up that policy that gives the United States the role of promoting freedom in the world," Berlusconi said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to work with Bush in the war on terrorism and in revitalizing the Middle East peace process, and called on Europe and the United States to "build anew their alliance" after strains created by the Iraq war.

"A world that is fractured, divided and uncertain must be brought together to fight this global terrorism in all its forms and to recognize that it will not be defeated by military might alone but also by demonstrating the strength of our common values, by bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq as we have done to Afghanistan, by pursuing with the same energy peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine," Blair said.

But even among these supporters, there were appeals for Bush to work on healing the trans-Atlantic rift.

"It is not natural to have - maybe not a cold war - but, in any case, a chilling of relations along theses lines," said Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka. "I hope that European leaders and President Bush will show initiative in this area."

The prime minister of Denmark, which has 501 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, said his nation will "stay there as long as needed," but added that the overall goal was "to get out of Iraq."

Hungary, meanwhile, announced it would withdraw its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq by the end of March. Its government has been under mounting pressure from citizens and opposition parties who object to the soldiers' presence.

An ailing Yasser Arafat congratulated Bush and expressed hope that a second term would help give a new spark to the Middle East peace process, an aide to the Palestinian leader said.

Arafat "declares the readiness of the Palestinian leadership to cooperate and work with (Bush) to resume political efforts to bring about peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the president's vision" in the road map, Arafat aide Mohammed Rashid said.


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