U.S.-Europe "renaissance" seen under Sarkozy: Lantos

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Relations between the United States and Europe are likely to improve dramatically under new French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a U.S. congressional leader said on Thursday.

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“We are at the beginning of a new renaissance of US-Europe relations,” Representative Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

Former French president Jacques Chirac and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, straining relations with the United States.

“With President Sarkozy -- I am the only American politician who pronounces his name properly -- in Paris, with my friend Angela Merkel in Berlin, with the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ... I expect a dramatically closer and more harmonious relationship between the U.S. and Europe than what we had under Schroeder and Chirac,” Lantos said.

Lantos was born in Budapest, while Sarkozy’s father migrated to France from Hungary.

Both Sarkozy, elected this year, and Merkel, who took office at the end of 2005, have pledged to improve relations with the United States, while nonetheless reserving Europe’s right to fix its own course.

Lantos also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of energy policy to exert power would serve to unite the “civilized” nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Russia’s disputes with neighbors across which its exports are piped have caused gas and oil supply cuts in the past three winters in Europe, which gets a quarter of its gas from Russia.

“I am grateful for Mr Putin for his misbehavior because he is again driving the western powers closer together,” Lantos, a California Democrat, told a news conference in Budapest.

“Mr Putin’s squeeze on European energy supply is reminding people that while the Red Army no longer threatens Europe ... you can exert power and pressure through energy supply,” he said.

Hungary, where Lantos was born, buys 70 percent of its gas from Russia, though it enjoys better ties with Moscow than most other eastern European countries.