Mr Powell, on perhaps his last official trip abroad, was in the Netherlands which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, to smooth the way for a February visit to Europe by US President George W. Bush.

But his earlier stops in Sofia and Brussels have produced only mixed success in the attempt to heal festering wounds in transatlantic relations caused by the US-led invasion in Iraq.

President Bush is to meet with NATO and EU leaders in Brussels on February 22 and Mr Powell told a group of Dutch students shortly after his arrival that the president hoped to mend the breaches caused by Iraq.

“We’re trying to get over that disagreement by coming together… and I hope that will be the result of my conferences here with the EU troika today,” he said.

“I hope we’ll get over this so that we can get on with the task of helping the Iraqi people and not continue to argue about what happened last year,” Mr Powell told the students.

President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq sparked massive criticism in Europe, and drove a huge wedge between EU governments who backed the war — spearheaded by Britain — and an anti-war bloc headed by France and Germany.

In Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Powell said the United States was ready to move on and challenged Europeans to respond positively to US overtures which he said would be critical to confronting new global threats like terrorism.

“Whatever our differences about the past, about Iraq, we are now looking forward,” he said. “We are reaching out to Europe and we hope that Europe will reach out to us.”

Victory in Iraq, including successful elections for a transitional parliament set for January 30, is in everyone’s interests, even those European nations that vehemently opposed the war, he said.

Though Powell was forced to acknowledge Washington’s continuing frustration with some European NATO allies, including France and Germany, over Iraq, he is bringing that and a laundry list of other issues to The Hague for his meetings with senior EU officials.

Particularly important, Powell said are joint efforts to promote democracy and human rights throughout the broader Middle East and North Africa, an ambitious US project that encourages reforms from Pakistan to Mauritania.

Cooperation on Ukraine, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Balkans was high on the agenda in his talks with Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The United States is especially keen to see the European Union enforce and perhaps toughen its recent deal with Iran under which Tehran agreed to suspend it uranium enrichment activities that Washington believes are an attempt to develop nuclear weapons.

The EU agreement is “a step forward, it’s good,” Mr Powell told the Dutch students. “But it’s only a suspension. When you suspend something, you can unsuspend. We would rather see it terminated or brought under total control.

“We’re working with the European Union; it’s better we think for the European Union to have the lead with respect to this kind of discussion,” he said, noting the US stance on Iran was less flexible than that of the EU.

In addition, Mr Powell was renewing the US case against the lifting of a 15-year-old arms embargo on China, a move spearheaded by France and Germany that appears to be gaining momentum inside the 25-member bloc.

He is expected to remind his interlocutors that Washington is a firm supporter of Turkey’s entry into the European Union and carefully suggested that Ankara be given an early date to begin accession talks when EU leaders meet at a summit next week.

Mr Powell said this week that Turkey has done a “very good job” of meeting European concerns over its suitability for EU membership and noted that he would respond “very positively” if the summit agreed.

Trade and economic issues, including EU concerns about the weakened dollar, will be touched on tangentially in the talks, US officials said.

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