Foreign powers ready for fresh start with Bush

PARIS – European allies alienated by President Bush’s first fouryears in power offered Wednesday to let bygones be bygones, sayingthey want to work with the new administration and seeking, rightfrom Day 1, to get the new White House to listen more to overseasopinion.

French President Jacques Chirac, in a congratulatory letter,said he hoped Bush’s second term “will be the occasion forstrengthening the French-American friendship.”

“We will be unable to find satisfying responses to the numerouschallenges that confront us today without a close trans-Atlanticpartnership,” wrote Chirac. He addressed the letter to “DearGeorge.”

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who also clashed with Bushover Iraq, wrote the president a congratulatory letter expressing”great expectations” for renewed cooperation.

“The world stands before great challenges at the beginning ofyour second term: international terrorism, the danger of weapons ofmass destruction, regional crises – but also poverty, climatechange and epidemics threaten our security and stability,”Schroeder wrote. “These challenges can only be masteredtogether.”

Another critic of the Iraq war, Spanish Prime Minister Jose LuisRodriguez Zapatero said his government wants “a relationship ofefficient, constructive cooperation with the U.S. government andwith President Bush, respecting the ideas of each side.”

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

Election interest in Europe was intense, as was thedisappointment many felt over Bush’s victory. Some saw it as proofthat Europe and the United States are further apart than ever.

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

Others worried that Bush, strengthened by a bigger win than in2000 and backed by a Republican Congress, would turn a deaf ear toworld concerns.

“Europe will continue to criticize Bush the same way asearlier,” said Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson. “But I do notbelieve that he will be more willing to listen.”

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

“From our point of view, the Bush administration is a knownquantity,” said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.”We’ve had a very good relationship with them for the last fouryears and I’m sure we’ll be able to keep building on that over thenext four.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Bush victory would meanthat people in the United States had not given in to terroristthreats.

“I would feel happy that the American people have not allowedthemselves to be scared and made the decision they consideredreasonable,” Putin said at a Kremlin news conference after talkswith Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“Bush will keep up that policy that gives the United States therole of promoting freedom in the world,” Berlusconi said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to work with Bush inthe war on terrorism and in revitalizing the Middle East peaceprocess, and called on Europe and the United States to “build anewtheir alliance” after strains created by the Iraq war.

“A world that is fractured, divided and uncertain must bebrought together to fight this global terrorism in all its formsand to recognize that it will not be defeated by military mightalone but also by demonstrating the strength of our common values,by bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq as we have done toAfghanistan, by pursuing with the same energy peace in the MiddleEast between Israel and Palestine,” Blair said.

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

“It is not natural to have – maybe not a cold war – but, in anycase, a chilling of relations along theses lines,” said PolishPrime Minister Marek Belka. “I hope that European leaders andPresident Bush will show initiative in this area.”

The prime minister of Denmark, which has 501 troops in thesouthern Iraqi city of Basra, said his nation will “stay there aslong as needed,” but added that the overall goal was “to get out ofIraq.”

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

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

Arafat “declares the readiness of the Palestinian leadership tocooperate and work with (Bush) to resume political efforts to bringabout peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state based onthe president’s vision” in the road map, Arafat aide MohammedRashid said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top adviser, RaananGissin, called Bush’s re-election a victory for a “relentless fightagainst terrorism.”