New York Times
November 6, 2004
BRUSSELS, Nov. 5 - As European leaders came together on Friday for the first time since the American elections, Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, urged them to adjust to the "reality" that
Some leaders, gathered here for a European Union summit meeting, suggested that the military campaign aimed at Falluja, stronghold of insurgent forces west of Baghdad, could result in the extensive use of heavy weapons, leading to substantial civilian casualties and a political backlash.
"If Falluja is torched by the Americans with the support of Tony Blair, that will make it much more difficult to prepare for the elections in Iraq," a senior European official said.
In their official remarks, though, the 25 leaders representing the nations of the expanded European Union said they looked forward "to working very closely" with Mr. Bush.
President Jacques Chirac of France said in separate comments that a strong America reinforced the need for a stronger Europe "politically and economically" in an "ever more multipolar world," a phrase Mr. Chirac uses to emphasize that he means a world not dominated by the United States.
"I believe that European cohesion is naturally the right way to deal with what some people might consider the worries or concerns" stemming from the results of the American election, he said, and then left the summit meeting early, skipping a luncheon for Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi.
Mr. Chirac said he did not intend to snub Dr. Allawi, but was departing for Abu Dhabi to attend the funeral of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, president of the United Arab Emirates, who died Tuesday.
Another surprising shift that registered among leaders were the remarks of the prime minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose country, a close ally of Washington, has resisted joining the European Union from its inception. It might be time to reconsider, Mr. Bondevik said.
Speaking on Norwegian television, Mr. Bondevik said that Mr. Bush's unilateral style in international affairs was driving Europe and America apart, a tendency that would strengthen the argument to place Norway more firmly in the Europen camp.
"The distance between American and Europe continues to increase over a long period," he said, adding that this would lead "toward a growing consolidation in Europe."
Still, while there was no groundswell of enthusiasm for Mr. Bush's second term, there was cordiality and a pragmatic recognition that Europe and America face a series of difficult tasks over the next few months that will require close coordination: elections in Iraq, potential nuclear proliferation in Iran and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, said at a news conference that he had spoken with Mr. Bush on Friday by telephone in a conversation that focused on the future.
"We were both of the opinion that it is now about looking forward," he said. "Both America and Germany are interested in a fully intact, friendly relationship between both countries. That also strengthens the trans-Atlantic relationship," he said.
The critical state of affairs in Iraq and the rapid decline in the health of the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, weighed heavily on discussions here.
Mr. Blair, who met separately with Dr. Allawi, was most focused on Iraq, especially after the death of three British soldiers in an ambush on Thursday.
The European leaders agreed to offer Dr. Allawi's government $38.6 million to help finance elections in January, and an additional $33 million for security forces to protect United Nations personnel in Iraq. Election experts may also follow. Europe had already pledged $371 million in reconstruction aid this year.
But European involvement in Iraq remains marginal. Both Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schröder harbor deep reservations about committing NATO troops there.
The alliance's plan to establish a large training mission for a new army in Iraq has been beset by delays, but also by security and logistical concerns. NATO leaders approved a plan to dispatch them at a summit meeting last June.
Mr. Schröder has ruled out any deployment of German troops to Iraq, and Mr. Chirac, speaking in Madrid in September, referred to the conflict as a "Pandora's box" that Western forces had been "unable to close."
Dr. Allawi, making a stop at NATO headquarters here, urged Western leaders to move more expeditiously in helping Iraq to build an army that could eventually take control of security in Iraq.
"Time is of the essence," he told the alliance's governing body. "There is a real battle in Iraq today. Delays measured in hours and days can cost lives." He asked it to move its plans forward "as quickly as possible."
Mr. Blair also sought to keep up the pressure for a greater European role in Iraq, but his hopes for playing the pivotal role as a bridge between America and Europe have been diminished by his exclusion from the "triumvirate" he tried to form last year, with Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schröder, to orchestrate Europe's course. On Friday the French and German leaders met with Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain to plot their strategy for the summit meeting.
Mr. Blair seemed undeterred.
"The fact is that we have in Iraq a government that is desperately trying to bring stability, hope and democracy in Iraq," Mr. Blair said, standing beside Dr. Allawi. He added that this would require Europe's help.
Asked to explain comments he made Thursday that some European leaders were "in denial" about Mr. Bush's victory, Mr. Blair said, "It is pretty obvious that there are some people who have not wanted to come to terms with changes that have happened."
"I'm not going to go and start pointing fingers at people," he continued, "What I'm really saying is that we've got to move on now. There's a new reality so let's work with that reality."
The European leaders also sought to galvanize support for a new push in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
They endorsed a set of proposals developed by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy adviser, that lay out a series of steps for security and political reforms that would set the stage for Palestinian elections, the restart of economic aid and a return to the so-called road map and negotiations aimed at meeting Mr. Bush's goal of creating a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
In a memo to European foreign ministers, Mr. Solana said that "between now and the end of the year, a number of events have to be actively managed" to capitalize on the Israeli disengagement plan and, with Mr. Arafat ill, the possibility of new Palestinian leadership.
"There is a certain confluence of elements and we should seize this opportunity," an aide to Mr. Solana said.
In a statement addressed to Palestinians, the leaders expressed their support "at this difficult moment" and welcomed the vote of the Israeli Knesset to approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan. But the leaders admonished Israelis that the pullout should be "a first step in the overall process" of a return to the road map and negotiations for a permanent agreement.
Walter Gibbs contributed reporting from Oslo for this article.