Conference examines the future of the New Europe & the trans-Atlantic debate

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A Prague-based think-tank, the Program of Atlantic Security Studies (PASS), held a conference this week on the New Europe and the trans-Atlantic debate. Foreign policy issues that came to the fore were - first and foremost - new dialogue between the U.S. and Europe following the political rift over the war in Iraq. Jan Velinger attended part of the debate, and joins us in the studio to tell us how different foreign policy specialists expressed their views. Jan, what was your overall impression?

"Fahima, let me say first off that almost all speakers at the conference agreed on one thing: European - U.S. relations were never simple, even in the past. Iraq continues to dominate the Trans-Atlantic dialogue and despite recent political fence-mending some sore spots remain. At least one speaker, Jeff Gedmin from the Aspen Institute in Berlin, suggested that Europeans had not fully appreciated the paradigm shift following September 11th, one that eventually led to the U.S. largely going it alone in Iraq. In Mr Gedmin's view the influence of that day is still being felt."

"On September 11th, we were attacked in a barbaric way that surprised Americans, that reminded Americans that these same terrorists had been attacking us for years - in 1993 they attacked the World Trade Center - and when we responded and when we went into the caves of Afghanistan and learned more we realised that they would like to do us more harm. They killed 3,000, they would like to kill 30, 000, they would like to kill 300, 000! I don't think the United States has abandoned its 'perspective': we're still interested in China, and free trade, and relations with Europe, and the peace process in the Middle East. But, this one issue is a priority, and it takes much more attention and capital. It's a different quality of threat."

At the core, though, there are more common values and interests - that continue to join the U.S. and Europe, even following the rift over Iraq. Were speakers at the conference optimistic, especially given recent overtures by the Bush administration?

"I have to say that really depended on speaker to speaker, ranging from positive views to Jeff Gedmin's "cheerful pessimism". Ted Magder, of New York University, on the other hand is one of those who thinks dialogue is possible, but thinks that both U.S. and Europe really need to reach some kind of consensus on how to act in cases that require intervention:

"You're right to say that there aren't staggering differences in values between Europe and the United States on so many levels, certainly the political level, the economic level. Where I think the difference lies these days is how the two entities, the U.S. and Europe, react to international incidences that might require intervention. I think what Europe can do - and I hope what Europe does - is push forward a conversation, a conversation within a variety of international organisations, over the way we think about intervention. There is a growing body of opinion in international law and I think in the international community and I think even among the public at large, that from time to time human rights violations are so overwhelming, so abhorrent, that the sovereignty of a country can be violated. In order to protect people who have asked to be protected because they are being 'cleansed', or tortured, or murdered. This is the problem that we now face, that both the U.S. and Europe must clarify, Europe especially."

But, I gather that on the other hand when it comes to the question of democracy in Ukraine, there does seem to be more trans-Atlantic consensus.

"That's right, and ultimately, that was a point most raised by European speakers at the conference, like former Czech foreign minister, now euro MP, Josef Zieleniec, who stressed in effect, that the EU 'does matter', its stout political stance in favour of democratic change in Ukraine was proof. In his view, its influence can not be underestimated, and for that reason future Trans-Atlantic dialogue should be more balanced. In the end, Mr Zieleniec called for a new institutional framework, a new agenda, to be set up regarding common policy issues shared by the EU and the U.S. - but we'll have to see whether or not and just how those are realised. Of course there are enough examples on the table where we might see future evidence: Israel and Palestine, Iran, and a still largely destabilised Iraq."