In a recent conversation on the impact of improved transatlantic relations, a European diplomat singled out the role of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
He then made a prediction: "If we can get a deal on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Sudan, it would be thanks to her," the diplomat said. Dr. Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell - a favorite of Europe's - had favored such an accord, he added, "but he could not deliver."
Last week the United Nations Security Council voted 11 to 0 - with four abstentions including the United States - to authorize the ICC to prosecute atrocities committed in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan.
That the United States withheld its veto (after settling for a measure that exempts nationals of non-ICC ratifying countries from prosecution) was the latest herald of markedly improved US-Europe relations. Behind the thaw in what just a year ago looked like a new ice age are factors ranging from Europe coming to terms with President Bush's reelection to the president naming a secretary of State who the world knows is his close confidante and thus can get things done.
Moreover, as the Security Council's Darfur vote suggests, the improvements are more than just atmospherics: Recently the European Union signaled it would not be lifting an embargo on arms exports to China anytime soon, as had been widely anticipated though strongly opposed by the US. For its part, the US agreed to support European efforts to use diplomacy in dealing with Iran's suspected nuclear- weapons ambitions.
And if Paul Wolfowitz won unexpectedly easy (and unanimous) approval of the World Bank's board last Thursday to become president of the international institution, it is largely due to a European decision not to oppose Mr. Bush's nomination - even one the Europeans do not necessarily relish.
'Prolong this new tone'
"Each side has come to the conclusion that we can do things together that it couldn't do alone, and each side is taking steps to prolong this new tone," says Simon Serfaty, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The improvement carries the clear imprint of the postwar difficulties in Iraq. The insufficiencies of the "coalition of the willing" that the US cobbled together for the war - and without most of its traditional allies - brought home the reality that "the Europeans were not as weak as we thought they were, and not as irrelevant as we thought they were," Mr. Serfaty says.
At the same time, he adds, the growing optimism for positive changes provided by elections among Palestinians and in Iraq had its impact on the Europeans: "They realized they can't do without American power, primarily because they don't have it themselves."
Yet even though these realizations were taking …