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Rice calls for new chapter in relations with `Old Europe'

THE US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, called last night for a "new chapter" in US-European relations, which would set aside differences over Iraq and push forward Washington's "freedom" agenda. In her first major policy speech since she took office last month - a speech pointedly made in Paris - Ms Rice said the world stood on the threshold of an "era of great opportunity".

"So much is changing in our world. So much is changing in the Middle East," she said. "We are just beginning to see what freedom can achieve." Speaking at the National Foundation of Political Sciences in Paris - Science Po - the alma mater of the French governing class, including President Jacques Chirac, she promised that the new Bush administration was ready to make a new start in its relations with Europe.

"America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America," Ms Rice said. "After all, history will surely judge us not by our old disagreements but by our new achievements ... It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance."

In a speech flagged as the keynote of her eight-day European and Middle East tour, Ms Rice went on, however, to spell out a thoroughly American, and neoconservative, vision of what the new European-US unity might achieve. "This great alliance, which has had a really glorious past, now can have an even greater future in sustaining an effort on behalf of those who are seeking to liberate themselves from tyranny and to build democracy," she said.

There was no hint in her speech of whether those pro-active efforts to spread freedom and democracy across the world should be peaceful or military. Ms Rice took as her example, on several occasions, the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq - both of which followed US-led invasions, But she also praised the recent democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine.

She referred in passing to Iran and Syria as countries that should make their attitude to terrorism "clearer".

Ms Rice also praised France and said close US-French relations had survived the incandescent dispute between the countries over the legality of the Iraq war. But there was nothing in her speech to suggest that the Bush administration was prepared even to listen to President Chirac's doubts about the wisdom of a full-frontal attempt to spread the gospel of freedom, which might be interpreted in many parts of the world as a form of cultural imperialism.

Ms Rice said the US and Europe must move beyond their old military alliance, "a partnership based on common threats" and make a new partnership based upon "common opportunities" to create the benefits of freedom "beyond the transatlantic community". Despite her gesture in choosing to speak in Paris, and at Science-Po, she made several references to what conservatives in the US regard as a French willingness to appease terrorism and tyranny.

Terrorists in Iraq, she said, regarded democracy as a "policy of evil ... To our common enemies, liberte, egalite et fraternite are also evil policies." Ms Rice was having talks with President Chirac last night.