MEXICO CITY – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) says he has an ambitious travel schedule in Europe in the weeks ahead to help heal deep U.S. divisions with the continent stemming from the Iraq war.
Powell told reporters en route to Mexico City on Monday night that he planned to carry that message to meeting with NATO, the European Union (search) and the 57-nation Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe early next month.
"Our European friends have no illusion that the president wants to have a strong relationship with all of our European friends and allies, notwithstanding any disagreements we have had in the past," Powell said.
While U.S. ties with Central and Eastern European countries have been relatively warm, they have been acrimonious with France and, to a lesser extent, Germany. Spain also loosened its ties with Washington since the election of a socialist government in March.
Following Bush's re-election last week, French President Jacques Chirac (search) told Bush he hoped for a strengthening of the French-American friendship. But Chirac also told EU ministers that it was essential for Europe to "strengthen its unity and dynamism when faced with this great world power," the United States.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, after a phone call congratulating Bush, said both agreed that it was time to look forward. Schroeder said relations between Germany and the United States were "fully intact" despite the fallout over the war in Iraq.
Powell is here for talks on immigration and other issues with Mexican President Vicente Fox and other officials.
He gave no hint as to his own plans beyond the early December meetings, although he is widely expected to leave his job at the end of Bush's term or early in the second term.
Powell suggested that cooperation with European countries has been improving on several fronts. He cited in part NATO's decision to train Iraqi military personnel and the assumption by France of a leadership role with multinational forces in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Another possible sign was the recent EU financial commitment to Iraq.
On the Mideast, Powell expressed cautious optimism that a political transition in the Palestinian Authority could go smoothly.
Since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat went to the hospital in Paris, "I have been impressed by the manner in which Palestinian leaders back in the territories have been discussing among themselves how to move forward, not yet knowing what Mr. Arafat's fate is," he said.
Powell also said he was encouraged by the relative absence of violence in the region recently.
"I hope that sense of quiet calm can be maintained. That gives us something to work with," he said.
U.S. officials are in touch with all the parties concerning a stalled Mideast peace settlement, he noted.
"The president has made it clear and I have made it clear to them that we are ready to engage as soon as it is appropriate to engage," he said.