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Washington/Gütersloh, 14/11/2008

A European Briefing Book for Barack Obama

Laurie Dundon, Bertelsmann Foundation, Congressman Russ Carnahan, Annette Heuser, Bertelsmann Foundation, Ambassador John Bruton, European Commission Delegation to the US, and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former US Under Secretary of State, (v. l.).
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Laurie Dundon, Bertelsmann Foundation, Congressman Russ Carnahan, Annette Heuser, Bertelsmann Foundation, Ambassador John Bruton, European Commission Delegation to the US, and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former US Under Secretary of State, (v. l.).
Photographer: David Hills

The Washington, DC-based Bertelsmann Foundation presented its Trans-Atlantic Briefing Book for the Obama administration on Thursday, 13 November 2008 in the US capital. The Briefing Book is a policy blueprint that offers strategies for foreign-policy cooperation between Europeans and the new American leadership during their first consultations in early 2009.

The Bertelsmann Foundation, the only non-partisan pan-European think tank in Washington, DC, wrote its Briefing Book from a distinctly European perspective. The Book describes the go and the no-go areas of major foreign-policy issues. It realistically considers the shortcomings of the European institutions and EU member-states. The Briefing Book highlights the numerous fields of trans-Atlantic cooperation and focuses on the viewpoints of Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin.

Representatives from the Washington, DC academic, think tank and media communities gathered at the Sofitel Washington Lafayette Square Hotel to hear the Foundation's Executive Director Annette Heuser and Director of Transatlantic Relations Laurie Dundon detail the Briefing Book's recommendations. John Bruton, European Commission Ambassador to the United States, Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO) provided feedback on the Briefing Book and offered their views on the most urgent issues that will confront President-elect Barack Obama upon entering office.

Ms Heuser and Ms Dundon emphasized that the Obama administration will have to juggle numerous challenges, but will have limited time to address them. The challenges include Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia, the Middle East, climate change and, most pressing, the international financial crisis. Ms Heuser and Ms Dundon noted that these issues are really global in nature and closely interconnected. Close cooperation among trans-Atlantic partners is required to deal with each and all of these foreign-policy priorities. That, however, requires Washington to take the right approach and tone. "Europeans want a new relationship with America, but are looking for a US partner with an open ear, a collaborative approach and a lighter touch", said Ms Dundon.

Ambassador Bruton agreed on the importance of tone, but stressed that content matters even more. He focused especially on the Middle East and the need to re-energize the Annapolis Process. He emphasized that the dilemma of West Bank settlements needs to be addressed quickly. It can't even wait for the upcoming Israeli elections. "We are basically running out of space to have two states", he warned. "The future of the Middle East must depend on the fair and undiscriminating appliance of the rule of law."
Ambassador Bruton also noted the threat of Iranian nuclear plans and acknowledged the anxiety it instills in the region, particularly for Israel.

Congressman Carnahan's comments centered on climate change. He emphasized the need for a global response to this global issue. He criticized the United States for not playing a role commensurate with its position in the world. "The US has clearly dragged its feet. The next administration will take the issue of climate change very seriously", he said.

Ambassador Pickering agreed that setting the proper tone is important if trans-Atlantic relations are to have a fresh start. In this regard, he highlighted a need for American engagement with Iran to kick-start a potentially new era in bilateral relations. He warned, however, that timing was essential to conducting negotiations with Tehran. "Washington has to wait until Iran gets its domestic issues under control", he cautioned. "Opening an interests section would be very helpful as an early gesture to build confidence between a new US administration and Iran."

The panel’s comments were followed by a question-and-answer exchange with the audience, which included the ambassadors of Hungary and Malta to the US. Questioners showed particular interest in the effects of the financial crisis on governments’ ability to pay attention to issues such as the Middle East Peace Process.  The panelists agreed that the financial crisis would dominate the American and European agendas. Nevertheless, they reiterated the interlocking relationships among pressing foreign-policy matters and warned against isolating any one issue. Global solutions, they said, must be found to address global crises. “There is a need for constructive leverage between the financial crisis and the stability of the Middle East,” Ambassador Bruton said. He added that the role of international financial institutions is critical, but that ultimately responsibility lay with national governments. “What is urgent is re-capitalizing the IMF, as the IMF is us and we the governments have to find solutions”, the ambassador concluded.

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