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Why Europe, US differ on Mideast

They disagree on using force and have different considerations at home.

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When the French foreign minister visited a war- ravaged Beirut earlier this week, he had no problem meeting his Iranian counterpart as part of European efforts to end the Middle East crisis.

The United States has also pinpointed Iran, and Syria, as central to ending hostilities. But the US approach has eschewed diplomatic engagement, instead maintaining that such nations "know what they need to do": Stop arming Hizbullah.

That difference is just one indication of the deeper political and philosophical differences that roil international efforts to address the deepening violence – complicating any accord on which steps to take next.

The cracks separating the US and Europe are appearing along many of the same fault lines – the use of force, the impact of warfare on civilians, the definition of terrorism – that were exposed after 9/11 and the debate over war in Iraq. Those schisms had begun closing over the past year – especially with dogged effort by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – but are reemerging under the pressure of another Mideast war.

"The willingness or refusal to engage your adversaries speaks to a larger difference, and it starts with the fact that the US, and this administration, tend to have a black-and-white view of the world," says Charles Kupchan, professor of American foreign policy at Georgetown University in Washington.

"According to that view, the bad guys are unequivocally Hizbullah, Iran, Syria, the insurgents in Iraq – and they must be defeated. The Europeans," he adds, "especially given their long experience in the Middle East, are much more worried about the knock-on effect of the fighting in Lebanon – or Iraq."

One result is the current difference over what has to come first in any settlement of the Israel-Hizbullah conflict. The US is pressing for an international force to be set up before Israel is compelled to stop its drive against Hizbullah. The Europeans want the fighting on both sides to stop first.


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