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Americans and Europeans Share the Same Fears

A survey finds they have grown further apart but have common concerns about terrorism, radical Islam and the nuclear aspirations of Iran.

September 07, 2006|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Americans and Europeans think their relationship is deteriorating but share growing fears of terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and Iran's nuclear ambitions, a survey of public opinion in Europe and the United States shows.

The fifth annual survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, released Wednesday, also found signs of a chill between the West and moderate Muslim-led Turkey.

With the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaching, majorities of Americans and Europeans polled see international terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism as "extremely important" threats. That sentiment has intensified on both sides of the Atlantic. In the last year, it jumped 22% in Britain, the target of suicide bombings on the London transit system in 2005 and a hotbed for fundamentalist ideologues.

More than 50% of Europeans and Americans polled think the values of Islam are incompatible with democracy, though they blame particular Islamic groups and not the religion in general, the survey says.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States is dedicated to promoting dialogue between Europe and the United States.

Pollsters looked at the U.S. and 12 European nations and Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia and aspires to membership in the European Union.

Despite a widening schism on some key issues, there was a striking uniformity of opinion that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to global stability.

"A nuclear Iran, heightened terrorism fears and the Israel-Lebanon clash show there is no shortage of issues on the transatlantic docket," said Craig Kennedy, president of the organization. "It's clear from our survey that Americans and Europeans continue to feel strongly -- and increasingly similarly -- about those threats that fundamentally affect our security."

European and U.S. leaders have worked together to try to persuade Iran to halt its uranium enrichment efforts. Many Europeans polled were hawkish about what to do if diplomacy failed. Fifty-four percent of French respondents, compared with 53% of Americans, said they would support military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The survey found that 75% of Americans and 58% of Europeans saw the Iranian nuclear threat as more urgent than instability in Iraq.

But in Europe, the world's only superpower also stirs mistrust and resentment. Majorities in only three countries -- Britain, the Netherlands and Romania -- expressed positive views of U.S. leadership in world affairs.

"Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, the image of the United States in the world has not recovered from its steep decline after the war in Iraq," the organization said. "Yet at the official level there have been attempts at rapprochement, shifting the transatlantic policy agenda toward the challenges of emerging global threats and concerns."

In contrast to recent years, the number of Americans wanting better relations with Europe dropped to 45%, down by 15%.

Those numbers don't bode well for sustained cooperation in hotspots such as Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

Moreover, anti-Western feelings are on the rise in Turkey, a key Muslim ally on those fronts. Of those surveyed, Turks were the most anti-American, and they showed declining interest in becoming part of the European Union.

At the same time, Turks feel increasingly receptive toward Iran, the survey found.


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