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Opinion: US, Europe should mend rift

With the rise of China and Russia, the transatlantic relationship gains strategic importance.

The first of these perceived slights was Obama’s announcement that he would forego the annual U.S.-EU summit scheduled for Madrid in May. While the decision might seem completely rational to anyone who has read the final communiques of past such gatherings, the White House announcement touched off a spate of eulogies for transatlantic relations in European media. The U.S. has since backtracked somewhat, pledging a summit-level meeting in the autumn.

Another spat, this time between the U.S. and the United Kingdom, involves the Falkland Islands — Las Malvinas to Argentines. Argentina’s troubled government has been loudly complaining about British oil exploration in the island’s territorial waters lately, stirring memories of the 1982 war fought by the two nations. A furor erupted in Britain earlier this week when, answering a question from a British reporter, the State Department spokesman described the U.S. position on the centuries-old territorial dispute with a term British conservatives equate with treason: “neutrality.”

“Our position remains one of neutrality,” the spokesman said. “The U.S. recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.” A typical response in the British media, fond of references to the “Special Relationship” forged long ago by Churchill and Roosevelt, came from the right-leaning military analyst Nile Gardiner in The Telegraph:

Thousands of British soldiers are laying their lives on the line alongside their American allies on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Yet the president of the United States is either unwilling or too timid to offer a single word of support for the British people, who face a mounting confrontation with a corrupt, populist Argentine government that is threatening a blockade of British territory.

Still another dispute has arisen as a result of the convoluted nature of Pentagon procurement policies. After years of political wrangling, corruption and bid-rigging in the U.S., a European-American consortium (comprised of Northrop Grumman and Airbus-parent EADS) finally decided to drop out of a $35 billion contract for airborne refueling tankers, conceding the ground to Boeing. The March 9 decision quickly brought claims of protectionism from the EU, with the European Commission saying it feared the “terms of tender were such as to inhibit open competition for the contract.” Airbus’ Chairman Thomas Enders made the same point somewhat less diplomatically.

More than a year into the Obama administration, nothing like the disdain that characterized Bush-era ties with Europe is present. Yet a host of disputes, resentments and misunderstandings have proliferated that have made both sides uneasy: