BRUSSELS, Belgium – On his first visit to Germany since the war in Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revived the issue of Western European opposition to the conflict, suggesting it resulted from a lack of vision.
Rumsfeld said some Eastern European countries supported the Iraq war and the previous conflict in Afghanistan. And he asked rhetorically why it was that some of those small, struggling former communist countries were able to "make such outsized contributions to peace and security?"
"The key, I believe, is that even as they are busy looking inward and rebuilding their economies and societies, they have had the vision to look outward as well, to find ways they can contribute to a more peaceful and secure world," he said.
"It suggests that the distinction between old and new in Europe today is really not a matter of age or size or even geography. It is really a matter of attitude — of the vision that countries bring to the trans-Atlantic relationship."
Both Rumsfeld and his German counterpart, Peter Struck (search), said Wednesday that their nations should move beyond the rift over Iraq.
"Like a family, from time to time we don't agree on everything," Rumsfeld said during a joint appearance with Struck.
Before the war, Rumsfeld dismissed the objections by main opponents France and Germany by referring to them as "old Europe," suggesting the axis of power in Europe is shifting to the east.
Rumsfeld made his comments during ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of a joint U.S.-German venture, the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (search) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
He then flew to Brussels for meetings with NATO ministers.
The stops were part of a four-day trip in which Rumsfeld also traveled to Portugal and Albania in a highly public show of gratitude for their support for the war in Iraq.
Ten European defense leaders also attended the event at the Marshall center, founded in 1993 to stabilize and strengthen post-cold war Europe through educating and training military and civilian officials.
In their speeches, both Rumsfeld and Struck noted their differences over Iraq.
"Sometimes we have debate and discussion. But when we are threatened or challenged, we need to come together as we did after September 11," Rumsfeld said.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck took an even more conciliatory tone.
"Occasional discussions and irritations over specific political issues do not alter anything," Struck said. "Sure, our views differed over the Iraq issue. But a friendship like ours can take that. We are now looking ahead."
Rumsfeld said Poland wants to contribute in Iraq, Romania did in Afghanistan and Albania is helping in both — but neglected to mention France's and Germany's roles in Afghanistan.
However, at a later appearance with the German minister, Rumsfeld expressed regret at the deaths of four German soldiers recently in Afghanistan at what Struck has said was at the hands of Al Qaeda.
On Tuesday, Rumsfeld met briefly with leaders in Portugal and Albania.
"I value the relationship the U.S. has with Albania. It's important to us," Rumsfeld told a joint news conference with his Albanian counterpart Pandeli Majko (search).
The message was much the same earlier in the day at a joint news conference with Portuguese Defense Minister Paulo Portas in Lisbon. "We very much value our friendship," Rumsfeld said.
Portugal is sending a 120-member military police force to Iraq.
Predominantly Muslim Albania was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq and sent a small contingent of non-combat troops. It also opened its airspace land routes and waterways to coalition forces, and offered use of its air bases.
Rumsfeld completes his trip with the NATO meeting, where ministers from the 19 member nations are to talk Thursday about the security alliance's structure, as well as efforts to create a peacekeeping force in Iraq.
Rumsfeld said 41 countries are considering assistance to Iraq and some half dozen have committed forces. He didn't name them.