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U.S., European Officials Work to Strengthen Bridges

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 8, 2004 – Twelve months ago talks among security officials meeting here were stressed and contentious by many accounts. Today, many of those same officials are working together to move forward and overcome those rifts.

A year ago, the United States stood against NATO allies France and Germany in urging for the use of force against Iraq. Now, Iraq is liberated, and those countries are planning how best to guide the Iraqi people toward secure and prosperous self-government.

"The environment from this year's meeting is fundamentally different from last year's meeting," a senior U.S. official said Feb. 6 about the emotional tone of the informal NATO defense ministerial meeting held here on the eve of the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy.

"We now have a NATO alliance that I think is trying very hard to overcome the divisions from the Iraq war," said the official, who spoke on background.

He pointed out NATO's willingness to take on a broader role in Afghanistan and a commitment from many NATO nations to support operations in Iraq with troops or other assets. He also remarked on "the commentary and the body language of most of the senior officials of the European governments" also serving to demonstrate the increased attitude of cooperation at the gathering.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck demonstrated this attitude publicly in remarks he made in a Feb. 6 press conference. Germany had been one of the most vocal critics of U.S.-led military action in Iraq.

Today he said the United States and Germany are on a good path of cooperation. "Problems we discussed a year ago here in Munich have been resolved today," he said, through a translator.

"I don't want to assert that all problems have disappeared in the trans- Atlantic relationship, because that's not the case," the U.S. official said. "But it is the case that U.S. relations with the great majority of European nations have always been good and continue to be good."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed. In a speech to the attendees at the Munich Conference Feb. 7, the secretary said he's seen relationships among NATO countries ebb and flow over the years.

"I'm 71 years old, and I've watched NATO for a whale of a long time," he said, describing the fluctuations as "the groans and creaks" of adjusting to a new security situation in the world.

"Last year was not unique in the history of this alliance. It's been a pattern; it goes like this," the secretary said, while moving his hand up and down as if describing ocean waves.

Rumsfeld also said he believes common values and goals will keep the relationship between the United States and other NATO allies strong.

"Any monkey looking down from Mars on Earth knows that the countries in NATO and North America are the bulk of the countries on the face of the Earth that have the same values, the same concerns, the same hopes and aspirations for the world, the same lack of a desire to impose their will on somebody else," he explained. "We're the bulk of the democracies in the world. We have common interests. And that is what the interest of the United States has been and is today."

Just as relationships between the United States and other countries fluctuates over time, the opinion of the United States other countries hold changes considerably over time. Rumsfeld said this is a concern to U.S. leaders, but not an easy problem to solve.

He said some blame for animosity against the United States can be placed on unscrupulous media outlets in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East. The secretary also noted in passing that German television stations promote many of the same false concepts as Middle Eastern stations. He had made a similar allusion during an earlier roundtable with European media.

"I know in my heart and in my brain that America ain't what's wrong with the world," Runsfeld said.

"The problem in the Middle East is a serious one," Rumsfeld said. "When you have al Jazeera and al Arabiya and some of the networks in that area that people watch constantly daily putting out information that is biased and untrue, it ought not to be a great surprise to find that an awful lot of the people in that area have an impression of the coalition and the United States that is a highly negative one."

Countries can combat such negativism by finding more efficient ways to get their messages out and by conducting themselves "in a way that will bring credit to them rather than to lead people to be disparaging of them."

Sometimes though, television stations give widespread play to outlandish statements.

The secretary recalled what life was like in Iraq with Saddam Hussein in power: "people being tortured, rape rooms, mass graves, gross corruption, a country that had used chemical weapons on its own people used them on their neighbors, defiant to the United Nations through 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions and look at the way it was treated in the press."

"There were prominent people that represent countries in this room that opined that they didn't really think it made a hell of a lot of difference who won," Rumsfeld said.

"Think of that," he observed, "equating the countries in the coalition with what was going on in that country publicly shocking, absolutely shocking."

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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