Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

March 26, 2001

News Analysis: Storm Clouds Over U.S.-Europe Relations

By ROGER COHEN

BERLIN, March 25 &emdash; An editorial this weekend in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a leading paper, had a brisk headline in English: "Bully Bush." It reflected a growing allied concern over the direction of the Bush administration's foreign policy that the Europeans seem determined to resist.

The editorial characterized the expulsions of about 50 Russian diplomats as "extreme measures," criticized President Bush's handling of the Middle East, and fretted over his policy toward China and Taiwan. "The strongest in the class should refrain from beating up his weaker classmates," the paper commented.

It was precisely concern over what they saw as the Bush administration's "beating up" on the South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, when he visited Washington this month that prompted European Union leaders to decide this weekend to send mediators to support the peace effort between the two Koreas. This step amounted to an important signal on several fronts.

The decision demonstrated that the 15-member European Union is determined to develop its nascent common foreign and strategic policy, even when that policy differs from the American.

It also showed strong support for Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" toward North Korea at a time when it appeared vulnerable to the Bush administration's more skeptical view of the North Korean leader and its determination to build a missile shield to defend against the North's weapons programs.

With the Bush administration appearing to pull back from, or at least reconsider, President Bill Clinton's heavy engagement in Ireland, in the Middle East and in the Korean Peninsula, the European Union is signaling a new boldness. "Europe's turn," declared the Frankfurter Allgemeine recently.

Of course, Europe has expressed such pretensions before &emdash; notably in declaring that the "hour of Europe has dawned" on the eve of the Balkan wars of the 1990's &emdash; only to fall flat on its face as its diplomacy proved hapless. And the precise direction of the Bush administration's foreign policy is still in the process of articulation.

But the European Union has evolved considerably over the past decade, and its differences with the new administration seem real, particularly over issues like missile defense, Russia and even the environment. Germany has particularly strong feelings about the importance of the conciliatory approach of Kim Dae Jung, who is sometimes compared here to Willy Brandt, the Social Democratic chancellor of 30 years ago.

Mr. Brandt's Ostpolitik &emdash; the process of engagement with the Communist East German state &emdash; was often criticized in Washington, but its dividends proved real, and East Germany is no more.

"Whatever the nature of the regime, there really is no alternative to dialogue," said Karl Kaiser, a leading German foreign policy expert. "What the Europeans are saying by sending a delegation to the Korean Peninsula is that, in this post-cold- war world, they will not stand aside."

There was disappointment in European capitals when Kim Dae Jung appeared to receive scant support for his policy of engagement toward the North when he visited Washington. At the time, Mr. Bush said he would not resume talks begun by the Clinton administration with North Korea anytime soon, a clear rebuff to the South Korean leader, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his efforts at reconciliation on the peninsula.

"It's becoming clear that the new U.S. administration wants to take a more hard-line approach toward North Korea," Anna Lindh, the Swedish foreign minister, said this weekend. "This means that Europe must step in."

In addition to its desire for a missile shield, something that has generated anxiety across Europe, the Bush administration has also made clear it wants more rigorous systems of verification in place before pursuing an agreement to curb North Korea's testing program for long-range missiles and to stop the development of nuclear weapons.

But there have been signs of some differences between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the White House over the degree of severity needed toward the North Korean leadership of Kim Jong II.

Mr. Kaiser suggested that the Europeans also wanted to bolster General Powell, with whom they feel generally comfortable, in any clashes over Korean policy with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.

Throughout Europe, there has been growing concern in recent weeks that the Bush administration's approach may be engendering a more confrontational era in world politics, one sometimes characterized as having a cold-war chill. Uncertainty over the direction of American policy is also causing unease.

"I learned about the expulsion of the Russian diplomats from the newspapers," complained a senior aide to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "And if anyone in Washington thinks this is not going to affect Russian-American relations, I fear they are wrong. As for other areas like the Middle East, what worries us is the lack of clarity."

The European Union is deeply committed to a policy of reconciliation with Russia &emdash; President Vladimir V. Putin attended the European Union summit meeting in Stockholm that ended on Saturday &emdash; and opposes any policy that would draw new barriers across the European continent.

This view will certainly be expressed to President Bush by Chancellor Schröder when he visits Washington this week. It will be their first meeting, and there is no question that some of the difficulties between Europe and Washington stem from the fact that leaders are still getting acquainted. President Bush is not due to visit Europe until a NATO summit meeting in June.

In some areas, including the Balkans, initial trans-Atlantic difficulties appear to have been overcome, and the response to the Albanian attacks in western Macedonia has been one of united condemnation.

Indeed, cooperation has been enhanced by the fact that the Bush administration appears content to leave Macedonian diplomacy to the Europeans &emdash; a succession of European foreign ministers including Joschka Fischer of Germany has been in Skopje over the past week &emdash; rather than dispatch its own envoy.

This appears to be an example of an area where the very reticence of the new administration over heavy overseas involvement opens the way for an effective balancing of tasks with the Europeans.

But if the dispatch of European mediators to fill what might be called an American vacuum on the Korean Peninsula was to be followed by similar European moves in the Middle East, it appears likely that tempers in Washington could get frayed. "You could see the Europeans moving to prevent a Middle East hiatus," said one NATO official, "and the Americans would not appreciate that."

In general, having traded in much of their national sovereignty to create the shared euro currency, Europeans are looking for multilateral means to defuse international tensions. Their suspicion &emdash; reinforced over the Korean Peninsula &emdash; is that a wholly sovereign United States under President Bush, committed to the construction of a national missile defense shield, is far less inclined to such compromises.