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Bush Meets With EU Leaders

26 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush sat down with European Union leaders for a summit in Ireland today.

Bush, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and top EU officials are gathering at a 16th-century castle in western Ireland amid a huge security operation.

Afghanistan, the Middle East, global terrorism, and trade are all on the agenda of the summit.

But the main focus will be on the conflict in Iraq and the formal handover of authority to an interim Iraqi government by the U.S.-led coalition on Wednesday.

Trans-Atlantic relations have been damaged by disagreements over the Iraq war.

But Ahern said yesterday that the recent adoption of a UN Security Council resolution endorsing Iraq's new government has ended the rift.

"We have a new UN resolution, and whatever the past arguments about these issues, and we know they were hotly debated last year, [the UN resolution] is very clear about the position for the future," Ahern said.

Still, Bush's visit has sparked protests in Ireland, with at least 5,000 attending a demonstration in Dublin last night:

Ongoing violence in Iraq, where clashes and bombings killed close to 100 people on Thursday, is making EU leaders cautious about playing a bigger role there.

On the eve of the summit, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten warned that violence could break Iraq apart within months.

He said an EU role in reconstruction and election planning would be limited if security did not improve.

Bush was asked about the rising death toll in Iraq in an interview on Thursday with Irish state television RTE.

"Nobody cares more about the deaths than I do," he said, adding: "All that goes to show is the nature of the enemy. These people are willing to kill innocent people. They are willing to slaughter innocent people, to stop the advancement of freedom.... We will not let these terrorists dash the hopes and ambitions of the people of Iraq."

After talks in Ireland, Bush travels to a NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June.

In Brussels on 25 June, NATO countries struck a tentative deal on an agreement to help the Iraqi interim government train its security forces.

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