Lisbon impasse will not affect EU-US relations, says former US ambassador

Mon, Jun 23, 2008, 01:00

Experts belive the next US president will be far more willing to work with Europe on issues of common interest, writes Deaglán de Bréadún

THE IMPASSE over the Lisbon Treaty as a result of the Irish referendum would have little impact on transatlantic relations, according to a former senior figure in the US administration.

Former US ambassador to Germany, Richard Burt, told The Irish Times on a visit to Dublin: “I don’t think there’s any real appetite for American politicians to intervene in what’s really viewed as a European decision and a European issue.”

But Burt, who was also chief negotiator for the US in the strategic arms reduction talks with the former Soviet Union, predicted that, regardless of whether John McCain or Barack Obama became president, the transatlantic relationship would change significantly under the new administration.

“To some degree the Europeans have been able to take advantage of the unilateralism of the Bush administration, as well as the opposition of many European publics to Bush administration policies, to be able to opt out from the idea of working as a partner with the United States.

“And that means that if you have a president McCain – or a president Obama – you will see a new willingness on the part of the US to work closely with the Europeans, not only to consult with them but to reach common agreements that can then be commonly implemented,” he said.

Burt and former Clinton administration adviser Nelson Cunningham addressed a private dinner of business people in Dublin, hosted by international law firm Maples and Calder, on the topic of The World after the 2008 Presidential Elections.

Cunningham, who was special adviser to president Clinton for western hemisphere affairs and is now managing partner with consulting firm McLarty Associates, said there were “extremely tough issues that the US and Europe are going to have to come to agreement on”.

These issues included stabilising Afghanistan, negotiating a follow-up to the Kyoto protocol on climate change, and working on a framework to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme.

The next administration’s approach would be different from that of the Bush White House.

“There’s going to be willingness under either Obama or McCain to engage with the Europeans and to view them as essential partners in the process, rather than to think that there’s a way to just go around them and to achieve what the US wants to achieve without that kind of consensus,” said Cunningham.

On the key question of Iraq, Burt said “a pathway towards some stability” had become evident in recent times.

“John McCain’s approach to Iraq is much more prudent and sensible than Barack Obama’s. Despite the fact that McCain has been endlessly quoted, or misquoted, as saying that US forces should stay in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, the fact is that he’s been very clear about his desire to get US forces out of Iraq as quickly as possible, assuming that Iraq can be stabilised.”

Cunningham said that disengagement from Iraq was now critical.

“We have to do so in a way, as senator Obama says, that is as careful going out as we were careless going in. He believes he can start doing that by one or two brigades a month, but that’s not an inflexible plan.”

If circumstances required it, the withdrawal would be halted.

“The key question here is, what is better for the overall posture of American foreign policy: to express a willingness to stay in Iraq and to embrace that continued occupation, or to signal to the world that the time has come to end our occupying presence in Iraq and to thereby close a very difficult and painful chapter and open a new chapter to new relations with the world.”

Commenting on the domestic outlook for the US, Burt said: “We face some very major challenges at home, not only with the economy and the slow growth and the emergence of a kind of ‘stagflation’ similar perhaps to what we lived through in the 1970s, but with new challenges of energy security and global climate change.”

Cunningham said opinion polling showed that “there’s widespread consensus in America that we’ve gone off the rails”.

An overwhelming majority of the population believed the US was “on the wrong track”, he added.