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U.S.: Bush, EU Leaders Stress Reconciliation After Bitter Iraq Debate

  • Jeffrey Donovan

The leaders of the United States and the European Union held their annual summit in Washington yesterday. As RFE/RL reports, both sides stressed the need for reconciliation after falling out over the Iraq war.

Washington, 26 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and European Union leaders vowed yesterday to open a new chapter in their relationship after months of rancor over the war in Iraq and other issues.

After the annual U.S.-EU summit in Washington, it was all smiles from Bush and his guests -- European Commission President Romano Prodi and Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The leaders, emphasizing the need for renewed trans-Atlantic unity, announced a series of agreements on fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And they urged Iran to keep its commitment not to build nuclear weapons and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Bush said they had agreed to join forces to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from countries like North Korea and Iran. He told a White House news conference that "active interdiction" could be used to break up the transfer of such dangerous materials and urged Tehran to sign an additional protocol with the IAEA to allow more thorough inspections of its nuclear facilities.

"The recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency clearly describes Iran's failure to meet its obligations to the world and to provide access for agency officials. America and the EU agree that Iran must cooperate fully with the IAEA," Bush said.

Underscoring a new harder line on Iran by Europe, Prodi said, "The dialogue with Iran is going on daily and deeply, and we push that they accept all the inspections, even the non-planned inspections, because we have to be sure that it doesn't constitute a danger to future peace."

The summit was the first meeting between Bush and EU leaders since the start of the Iraq war in March. The debate over that war, which was bitterly opposed by France and Germany, combined with what many in Europe perceived as a "go-it-alone" attitude from Washington, generated what has been called the worst crisis in trans-Atlantic relations since World War II.

Differences remain on many issues, including the new U.S. policy of preventive military strikes, U.S. support for genetically modified crops, and how to deal with Palestinian militant groups and Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat.

The two sides, along with Russia and the UN, are joint architects of the "road map" peace plan for the Middle East. But Bush wants to sideline Arafat in favor of new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but the EU insists on meeting with Arafat.

At a briefing before the news conference, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also said Bush would press European leaders to stop all contacts with the militant group Hamas.

France considers the political wing of Hamas as a possible key player in the peace process. But Bush said not even a truce with Palestinian militants would suffice to get the peace process on track, and he urged the EU to cut off all support for Hamas and other such groups.

"The true test for Hamas and terrorist organizations is the complete dismantlement of their terrorist networks, their capacity to blow up the peace process. That's the true test," Bush said.

But Bush, Prodi, and Simitis seemed determined to turn the page on their recent spats. All three leaders appeared upbeat before reporters at the White House.

Simitis said it's impossible for the two sides to agree on all trade and foreign-policy issues, and that the important thing is to remain civil toward one another when disagreements flare up.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld caused a stir earlier this year when he said Germany and France are part of "old Europe," as opposed to nations in Eastern Europe that are set to join the EU and which supported the U.S. war on Iraq. Those nations, he said, are the "new Europe."

Referring to what may have been the most memorable comment of the trans-Atlantic spat over Iraq, Prodi said: "Many people have said that Europe is too old. Maybe, but old age helps us to understand our strengths and our weaknesses and the reality of the world. And so, I think, that if we stay alone, Mr. President, Europe is too old and the United States is too young to be able to bring peace in this world, and it is our duty to stick together to bring peace to the world."

Not missing a beat, Bush replied with a smile, "You're looking pretty young these days."

That was a light-hearted comment from a man who has recently leveled harsh criticism at Europe for banning genetically modified crops. Washington says bio-crops, which Europe opposes on health grounds, can thrive in harsh environments and could help poorer countries feed their people.

But Fleischer said Bush joked about the issue. He said the president ending his morning meeting with EU leaders with a big smile, telling them, "Let's go eat some genetically modified food for lunch."

According to Fleischer, everybody laughed. Whether they were genuine smiles or nervous laughs, Fleischer did not say.