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EU: Prodi Calls For Equal Partnership With U.S. In Foreign Affairs

Brussels, 30 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said today that Europe was looking for what he called a "very high-level role" in world politics.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's EU-U.S. summit in Washington, Prodi said in Brussels today that the European Union must be a full "partner" with the United States when global political decisions are made.

"I believe that world peace is only guaranteed by a strict alliance between Europe and the United States. But a Europe, which is a partner--- and partner means partner -- that is, Europe must take part in the making of political decisions. And our participation in political decisions is a consequence of our own capacity to remain cohesive and of our own internal forces," Prodi said.

Prodi pointed to the EU's decision last month to launch its own "Galileo" satellite positioning system by 2008, which the U.S. has said needlessly duplicates its own existing GPS system and presents a security risk should parts of it fall into the wrong hands.

Prodi said the go-ahead to "Galileo" should not be seen as a "hostile act," but rather a reflection of the need faced by the EU to develop its own economy and eventually its own defense capabilities.

The EU's delegation for Thursday's summit will include Prodi, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who represents the bloc's current presidency, and the EU's security coordinator Javier Solana.

Prodi said talks with U.S. President George W. Bush will focus on three topics: the fight against terrorism, the Middle East situation, and EU-U.S. trade relations.

Prodi said EU-U.S. cooperation in the fight against terrorism had so far been "impressive." He praised EU steps aimed at freezing the assets of terrorist organizations, improving air-travel security, and tightening asylum and immigration laws.

Prodi was less optimistic on the Middle East, reiterating his call for a more clearly acknowledged EU role in the region. He said lasting peace in the Middle East can only come about with the full involvement of the EU, the United Nations, Russia, as well as the United States.

Prodi said he welcomes U.S. pressure on Israel, which he said "seems to have convinced" Israel to lift its siege of Ramallah and release Yasser Arafat from his virtual house arrest.

Prodi indicated, however, that he expects more from the United States, saying he will "urge" Bush to ensure that Israel allows a high-level United Nations fact-finding mission to the devastated Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. The Palestinian side has alleged hundreds of civilians were massacred there in recent weeks. Israel's government has so far refused to grant the mission entry to Jenin.

The EU's position on Jenin was forcefully outlined last night by External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, who will also be in Washington Thursday.

"I think all of us in the European Union believe that the UN mission should be allowed to go ahead. We think that's in Israel's interest as much as anyone else's, because if what is claimed is exaggerated, the best way of finding out is by allowing this extremely distinguished panel of independent observers to look for themselves." Patten spoke after meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State for European Affairs Beth Jones.

Jones said the United States recognized that the participation of the EU, UN, and Russia was an "important part" in resolving the Middle East conflict. She offered no U.S. view on whether the UN panel should be allowed to inspect the Jenin refugee camp.

Prodi today said the summit's agenda would not include Iraq, but rather wide-ranging discussions on developments in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iran.

An EU official told RFE on condition of anonymity that the U.S. side had expressed "some disappointment" at last night's Patten-Jones meeting over the EU's intention of beginning talks soon with Iran with a view of signing a trade-and-cooperation agreement. The official said that while the EU had no what he called "illusions" about some forces close to power in Iran, the EU would retain its commitment to engaging the country positively. This, the official said, means, among other things, that Iran must not remain a mere trading partner for the EU, but also a "partner in reform."

The third and final major topic at the talks is trade. Prodi said today he would strongly defend EU plans to retaliate against recent U.S. tariffs on steel imports, which he said violate World Trade Organization rules.