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Powell leaves Europe divided
|December 10, 2004
| By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Brussels
Powell's manner was engaging, but his proposals were not
This is Colin Powell's last trip to Europe as Secretary of State. After 40 years of Nato meetings, he has risen from young lieutenant to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to America's most senior and powerful diplomat.
On Thursday, it was all over. He gave a farewell speech, was greeted by lengthy applause, then presented with gifts, including copious amounts of European beer.
At his final press conference, he was typically engaging.
Asked about the beer offered by the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, he said the two of them had been sharing a beer-related joke for several years.
Mr Fischer had sent him a case of beer once, he said, adding: "The next time I saw him, since he's a member of the Green Party, I gave him the empties back."
It was typical Powell: down to earth, sparky, warm. Mr Powell is a man it is hard not to like.
But Mr Powell's famous "people skills" have been sorely tested in the last four years.
He has repeatedly had to deliver unpopular messages and been sent to build consensus and unity where there were bitter divisions. No more so than in Europe.
The US is keen to end divisions with Europe over the Iraq war
He arrived for this final visit insisting that the transatlantic relationship was already improving. US officials based here say the atmosphere has noticeably changed.
At the end of Thursday's meetings, senior US officials said they were pleased with the day's successes.
They described the outcome in wholly positive terms - progress on Afghanistan, fresh pledges on Iraq and a common statement with Russia on the importance of free and fair elections in Ukraine.
That is one way of reading events. The other is more dismal.
Since re-election, President George Bush has emphasised the need to improve relations with Europe.
Mr Powell came to deliver the same message in person, and added a note of caution: "The United States is reaching out to Europe and hopes Europe will reach out to us."
In other words, a reminder that fixing a damaged relationship requires both sides to show commitment and put in some effort.
The effort the US is looking for is clear. It wants European countries to increase their troop presence in Afghanistan.
That would relieve some of the burden shouldered by the US and improve security in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections.
On Thursday, they achieved political consensus about doing that but left with - as one official put in - no troops on the table.
Nato has not agreed on increasing troops in Afghanistan
They also want countries who strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq to put their anger behind them, accept the reality of the status quo, however much they dislike it, and rally round to help out.
New offers of personnel - trainers and military police - came from solid allies: Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Their new pledges take the numbers for the Iraq mission from a current total of 60 to 300.
But that support was politically overshadowed by the continuing opposition of some of the big players.
The six countries most critical, led by France and Germany (the others being Greece, Belgium, Spain and Luxemburg) do not seem to be melting in the new American warmth.
Despite agreeing on a political level to a Nato training mission in Iraq, those countries have all refused to send any nationals to join it.
They have also gone a step further and vetoed the participation of any of their nationals who are currently working with Nato.
That is thought to be unprecedented and has really annoyed the US. The Nato secretary general expressed his disapproval of the veto in careful diplomatic language.
Mr Powell went a step further, describing it as "a problem".
The pointed exclusion of some Nato nationals was awkward, he said, and hurt the organisation's "credibility and cohesion".
Mr Powell will hand over to Condoleezza Rice, his successor, a Europe still divided over the Iraq.
The worst may be in the past now, but it is still an uncomfortable legacy.
Mr Powell may have limited the diplomatic damage through the sheer impact of his engaging personality. No-one knows what Ms Rice's personal style will be.
But there is no doubt her approach will be very different.
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