EUROPEAN TOUR Rice asks nations to repair relations

The new secretary of state spoke of strengthening United States relations with France.
PARIS -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached out Tuesday to America's allies in Europe, urging them to set aside the differences that have strained trans-Atlantic ties since the invasion of Iraq and join with the United States to broaden the boundaries of freedom in the world.
Rice's 25-minute speech, delivered at one of France's best schools of political learning, was a high-profile effort to win European support for President Bush's ambitious vision of spreading democracy to the Middle East.
"It's time to turn away from the disagreements of the past," Rice told an audience at the Institute of Political Studies that included several members of the French political and intellectual elite, such as former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and former Premier Alain Juppe. "It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance. America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda -- and Europe must stand ready to work with America."
Aides to Rice previewed the speech as a major event of her first overseas trip since she replaced Colin Powell last month as secretary of state. Her tour marked the latest in a series of moves since Bush's re-election last November to mend relations with key European allies.
Her remarks, followed by a brief question and answer session, were greeted with polite but restrained applause from the audience.
Officially, France embraced Rice's overture. At a joint news conference with the secretary of state Tuesday evening, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier bordered on the effusive, referring to his counterpart on three occasions as "dear Condi." He spoke enthusiastically about her comments, using similar language to describe the way forward.
"The world is a better place when America and Europe work together," Barnier said. "I think it is time for a fresh start."
A senior State Department official said French President Jacques Chirac complimented Rice twice on her speech during the course of an hourlong meeting that focused on a range of topics, including developments in the Middle East.
Avoiding disagreements
French and U.S. officials carefully skirted many of the issues that continue to divide them, including differences over how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, European plans to lift an arms embargo against China, and the role of the International Criminal Court.
Outside the French government, however, initial reaction here to the secretary of state's remarks was mixed. Benjamin Barnier, a French journalism student who attended the speech, said Rice spoke effectively but that her vision of world affairs tended toward excessive optimism.
Although Paris and Washington have clashed over Iraq and other issues, the student said he thought her call for a new era of U.S.-French partnership was convincing.
"I think it's going to help," he said. "I think the relationship between France and the U.S. is not so bad."