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U.S./EU: Trans-Atlantic Summit -- Regular Ritual With A Heavyweight Agenda

U.S. President George W. Bush is about to start a visit to Europe that could take another step towards repairing the damage done to trans-Atlantic relations by the Iraq war. Bush will hold a summit with European Union leaders in Ireland from 25-26 June. The future of Iraq, Iran's nuclear intentions, the state of the fight against international terrorism, and U.S.-EU trade issues are likely to dominate the visit. Afterwards, Bush goes on to Turkey for a NATO summit.

Prague, 24 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush travels to Ireland today for a summit meeting with top officials of the European Union, led by European Commission President Romano Prodi.

The summit, which begins tomorrow, is the latest of several meetings this month between Bush and European and other world leaders. And like the Group of Eight (G-8) conference in Georgia and the D-Day celebrations in Normandy, it holds out hope for warming up trans-Atlantic relations.

At least a little. Analysts like Mike Emerson, the director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, are not expecting too much. "This may be a summit of the lame-duck presidents," he said. "Bush on the one hand and Prodi on the other, so it may not be the most momentous occasion." Emerson is referring to the fact that Prodi is stepping down in the next few months at the end of his term as commission president, and Bush is facing what looks like a difficult battle for re-election in November.
Subjects likely to arise at the summit are the future of Iraq, now poised to regain sovereignty, plus the Israeli-Palestine peace process, and the war on terrorism.

And as Emerson said, the G-8 meeting of top industrial states in the United States only a few weeks ago showed less-than-perfect harmony between the Americans and the Europeans. "There was an attempt [at the G-8] to develop an important Middle East initiative. Since then, the [EU's ruling] European Council has had its meeting, and it did not make much of a reference to the G-8 summit declaration on this subject," he said. "So this is suggesting there is still a problem with the U.S. administration's general strategy towards the Arab-Islamic world, focused of course on Iraq and Israel-Palestine. So this is a shadow over any attempt to do very much [to improve relations] at the moment."

Another senior analyst, Guillaume Parmentier, the Paris-based head of the French Center on the United States, also predicts the Ireland summit will be low-key. "The problem with the EU-U.S. summit is that, generally speaking, it is a fairly formal affair. And we have not really found a way to make this into a serious political framework, largely because the Europeans have not yet determined the balance of responsibilities between the member states and the European Union," Parmentier said.

Subjects likely to arise at the summit are the future of Iraq, now poised to regain sovereignty, plus the Israeli-Palestine peace process, and the war on terrorism. Also likely are Afghanistan and the Sudan, AIDS, and Iran and North Korea's nuclear intentions.

Parmentier also noted that the United States and EU are the world's two biggest trading entities. "There will also [be discussion] on the state of the world economic system -- because, after all, that is what these summits are supposed to be discussing, and I'm certain there are going to be questions on the U.S. deficit, and questions on the sluggishness of the European economies."

Another analyst, London-based Mark Joyce of the Royal United Services Institute, is more optimistic about the overall situation. "There are signs that a lot of good work has been done [on improving U.S.-EU relations]. A lot of very hard diplomatic work over the course of the last year is coming to fruition, and U.S.-European relations have been repaired to a very significant extent," he said.

Joyce said he feels that the presence of the new, mostly Atlanticist Eastern European members of the EU is going to help repair relations further.

Protesters are expected to come out in force during Bush's stay. The Iraq war has not been popular in traditionally neutral Ireland. Nor has the Irish government's decision to allow U.S. military jets to refuel at Shannon Airport.

Accordingly, opposition political parties, pacifists, trade unions, artists, and religious leaders are holding a series of demonstrations around Ireland this week, culminating in a march from the remote Dromoland Castle, the site of the summit, to Shannon Airport on 26 June. Organizers hope for 50,000 protesters.

After his Irish summit, Bush continues to Ankara on 27 June for talks with Turkish leaders. Then in the following two days (28 and 29 June) he will attend a NATO alliance summit in Istanbul.