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Rice urges `a new chapter' in U.S.-European relations

PARIS—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice beseeched Europeans on Tuesday to set aside their caustic dispute with the United States over the war in Iraq and join President Bush's campaign to bring democracy to the Muslim world.

Speaking in the capital of European opposition to the Iraq invasion and other Bush foreign policies, Rice told an audience of French academics and government officials: "It is time to turn away from the disagreements of the past. It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship, and a new chapter in our alliance."

It was a refrain she later repeated in meetings with French President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.

French officials seemed eager to portray U.S.-French relations as improving. Barnier referred to Rice as "Condi," as if she were a close friend. "The time has come to turn the page, to write a new chapter in relations ... to get off to a new start," Barnier said at a joint news conference.

But there were no signs from the French that they'd do more in Iraq and no promises from American officials that they'd cooperate more with European efforts to negotiate with Iran over that country's nuclear program, talks for which the Bush administration has shown little enthusiasm.

But there were smiles and efforts by Rice's aides to portray her speech as evidence that the United States is serious about better relations before Bush's visit to Europe later this month.

Rice praised the expansion of the European Union, in a reference aides said was intended to show that the United States no longer would pit, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "Old Europe," where opposition to American policy on Iraq was strong, against "new Europe," the former Soviet bloc countries that supported U.S. policy.

"The United States welcomes, above all, the growing unity of Europe," Rice said in her speech at the Sciences Politiques, the university that trains much of France's elite. "America has everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner in building a safer and better world."

The selection of the Sciences Politiques was calculated to hammer home the idea that Rice was reaching out to opponents. The university is the historic center of French intellectual debate, and her audience consisted of teachers, students and prominent diplomats. Among those attending was former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing.

Rice's 25-minute speech, which she delivered in lecturelike tones, was met by polite applause. The tone of questions afterward was respectful and nonconfrontational.

"This is a wonderful institution that fosters ... debate," she told one questioner. "And it is no secret that the United States and France have sometimes disagreed in the past about how to proceed on a common agenda."

The core of her message was that the United States and Europe, which faced down the Soviet Union in the Cold War, should join in spreading freedom elsewhere around the globe, particularly in the Middle East.

"In our time we have an historic opportunity to shape a global balance of power that favors freedom—and that will therefore deepen and extend the peace," she said, expanding on themes Bush struck in his inaugural and State of the Union speeches.

"And I use the word `power' broadly, because even more important than military and economic power is the power of ideas, the power of compassion and the power of hope," she said.

"Spreading freedom in the Arab and Muslim worlds is . . . urgent work that cannot be deferred," she added.

Afterward, she replied with characteristic bluntness when asked by a leading French Muslim whether there is "one single Arab country in the world which really deserves to be defended by ... President Bush?"

"Let's talk about the Arab people," she said. "The Arab people deserve a better future than is currently in front of them. This is a part of the world in which the status quo is not going to be acceptable."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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