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Rice urges new chapter in US-Europe relations
Updated: 2005-02-09 09:32

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, carrying a bouquet of flowers, leaves the Sciences Politiques institute, in Paris Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2005. Rice's stopover in France is part of a European and Middle East tour which runs through Feb. 10. [AP]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Tuesday for a new chapter in relations with Europe after a rift over the Iraq war and began repairing ties with France, one of the biggest critics of the conflict.

Rice pointedly made the appeal in Paris during an eight-nation tour, underlining the message that President Bush wants Europe to be a partner and not a rival.

Calling each other Michel and Condi at a joint news conference, Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pledged to give U.S.-French relations a new start and emphasized areas of cooperation rather than strains.

"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," Rice said in a speech to students and academics at Paris's prestigious Sciences Politiques university.

"America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America," said Rice, a former university provost.

She made Paris the venue for the main speech of her tour to show Europe that the Bush administration has ended an internal debate about whether to view a united Europe as a rival or as a partner, a senior U.S. official said.

She chose to make the speech at the university because it has been at the center of intellectual and political debate over transatlantic ties.

Rice was greeted by warm applause and, although she appeared nervous and delivered the speech with little flair, she did not face a grilling in questions after the speech.

"When we disagreed, we still disagreed as friends," she said of relations with France. Later, standing beside Barnier at their news conference, she said: "When the United States and France work together there's a great deal we can achieve."

Rhetoric toned down

Trying out his English, which he is brushing up, Barnier said: "Chere Condi, it's time for a fresh start."

Underlining the desire for reconciliation, French President Jacques Chirac -- who met Rice but did not speak to reporters - is due to meet Bush for dinner in Brussels on Feb. 21 and will soon visit Washington.

A French government source also said Washington had agreed to hand over to France its last three citizens held by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. This would remove one obstacle to better ties, but French officials did not confirm the deal.

Barnier and Rice underlined cooperation in regional conflicts such as Afghanistan and Kosovo before starting talks, and avoided mention of their differences over Iraq.

Barnier did, however, call for U.S. support in trying to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, which Washington says is aimed at developing nuclear arms. Iran denies this.

Rice took a tough line against Iran, saying it must not be allowed to dictate terms for proving it is meeting pledges not to produce a nuclear arsenal. A trio of European countries are holding talks with Iran but Washington is not taking part.

Rice has chosen mainly to underline shared values with Europe rather than potentially divisive issues on her first trip as the top U.S. diplomat.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rice had no difficulty in winning backing from Italy, a U.S. ally with 3,000 troops in Iraq - the fourth largest foreign contingent there after U.S., British and South Korean forces.

Italy's support has stood in stark contrast to German and French opposition to the war. But diplomats across Europe have welcomed U.S. overtures to mend the partnership, especially after the Jan. 30 election in Iraq.

They have also praised Rice for leading the renewed U.S. peacemaking role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders proclaimed a formal end to bloodshed at a summit in Egypt on Tuesday.

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