Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pope mesmerises, Brown struggles

Change is in the air across the Atlantic

Change is the catch word in the US today, be it in the presidential campaign or in the US financial and social outlook and it manifested itself in a crystal clear way in two transatlantic visits last week.

German-born Pope Benedict XVI became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to walk into New York’s East synagogue, a Jewish place of worship dating back more than a century and designed in Byzantine style.

The Pope was welcomed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, an Austrian-born Jew. I had the fortunate coincidence of meeting Schneier at a meeting last year at the Council of Europe, Strasbourg where he had told me the moving story of losing most of his family in the Holocaust.

Later, speaking to diplomats from 192 countries at the United Nations, the Pope endorsed stronger “collective” action to protect human rights, preserve the environment and end humanitarian crises.

Hinting at different flashpoints and ongoing battles around the globe, Benedict, representing a sixth of the world’s population, cautioned that intrusion into any country’s internal affairs or an international conflict must only follow a search for “even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation.”

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of millions of Catholics around the world, got a red carpet welcome as he was received at the airport by President George W. Bush himself along with thousands of Americans.

No president in American history has picked up a visiting leader from the airport before and it also marked President Bush’s fifth meeting with two successive popes, a record again for any US president.

Bush explained the reason for the Pope’s special status, “One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn’t come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith.”

One quick look at the front pages, the TV channels of different media outlets and even talking to the common person on the street, it became apparent that the other visitor, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown failed miserably to get any attention in the US media as limelight was hogged by the first visit of a Pope to the White House in almost 30 years.

As the British media will make one believe that Brown got overshadowed by the Pope’s visit, a walk down the recent past points to more than that. Brown was flying back to United Kingdom as little known on the New Continent as he was when he flew across the Atlantic.

The emergence of French and German leaders, on behalf of the European Union, on the horizon of the transatlantic diplomatic canvas has taken the shine off the old “special relationship,” which Brown mentioned during his trip.

During the John F. Kennedy memorial lecture in Boston, Brown told his audience, “I am pleased that over the past half century the special relationship between America and Britain which John Kennedy prized remains strong and enduring - so firmly rooted in our common history, our shared values and in the hearts and minds of our people that no power on earth can drive us apart,” concluding with a note, “For the first time in human history we have the opportunity to come together around a global covenant, to reframe the international architecture and build the truly global society.”

Although US administration has openly supported Brown’s intentions to withdraw from Iraq, political pundits highlight subtle euphoria generated in Washington by French decision to supplement troops in Afghanistan.

“No question the relationship is changing for the better and President Sarkozy gets a lot of credit for that,” President George W. Bush was quoted as saying during Sarkozy’s visit.

On the other hand, Germany is slowly but steadily cementing ties with the US.

Speaking at the “Conference on Germany in the Modern World” at Harvard University, April 12, 2008, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs recalled “two great transatlantic speeches,” the famous speech by George Marshall some 60 years ago in which he announced the plan that became a hallmark of American statecraft” and a second speech “by Chancellor Willy Brandt,” in Harvard in 1972 “to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan and establish the German Marshall Fund of the United States.”

Stressing the relationship of US-EU and not US-UK as highlighted by British premier Brown, the German minister Steinmeier told his audience, “For the past 60 years the transatlantic relationship has been the world’s transformative partnership. America’s relationship with Europe - more than with any other part of the world - enables both of us to achieve goals that neither of us could achieve alone.”

Hailing American leadership, the German leader candidly defined the need for “new concepts, a revitalised alliance and particularly renewed American leadership in the world.” Together, the EU and the US account for nearly 37 percent of global trade in goods and 45 percent in services with the flow of transatlantic trade and investments being the largest in the world and hovering around a billion US dollars everyday.

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