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EU-U.S. Leaders Discuss North Korea, Turkey's EU Bid

U.S. President Barack Obama voiced support for Turkey joining the EU
PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- EU leaders, gathered in the Czech capital together with U.S. President Barack Obama, issued a joint statement on North Korea's April 5 missile launch and traded opinions on the EU membership bid of Turkey.

The EU-U.S. summit in Prague proved a quiet conclusion to a week of high-profile international summitry. But many key trans-Atlantic issues had already been addressed at the G20 and NATO summits earlier this week.

The early-morning launch of a North Korean missile, however, gave the otherwise low-key summit an issue to rally around.

The United States and European Council issued a joint statement that said Pyongyang's development of a ballistic missile capability was "aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters the statement makes clear that any future aid or benefits to North Korea will be contingent on its compliance with international demands to give up its nuclear program.

"It is clear in our joint statement that North Korea cannot realize either international acceptance or economic development linked to the international system until it ceases its threatening behavior and works with the other parties to implement the six-party joint statement [on North Korea's denuclearization]," Barroso said.

Obama held two bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, with the leaders of Poland and Spain.

The Spanish meeting was focused on restoring ties between Washington and Madrid following several years of chilly ties between the two countries.

Madrid irritated George W. Bush by pulling out of Iraq in 2004. But its fresh commitment of 600 additional troops for Afghanistan at this week's NATO meeting puts it at the top of European countries supporting U.S. strategy there.

Obama told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero he is committed to strengthening the U.S.-Spanish relationship, which one U.S. official described as "frayed."

Missile Defense

On Poland, talks focused on the status of U.S. missile defense plans. Poland, like the Czech Republic, has faced Russian ire and public criticism for agreeing to host missile-shield components.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski also said they also discussed the contribution of U.S. Patriot missiles to beef up Polish defense structures. Prime Minister Donald Tusk said talks also touched on climate change and ending both countries' dependence on coal.

Appearing alongside Kaczynski and Tusk, Obama described the relationship between the United States and Poland as "one of the finest in the world."

Obama, who heads to Turkey following his stay in Prague, inadvertently prompted a flurry of statements from various EU leaders after voicing support for Ankara's bid to join the 27-member bloc.

"The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbors, and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance, and violence, forging a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest," Obama said.

"Moving forward toward Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe."

Turkey's EU Ambitions

Turkey began accession talks in 2005, but progress has stalled over its intractable conflict with Cyprus and doubts in Europe about its commitment to democratic principles.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy responded to Obama's remarks by saying, "I have always opposed Turkey's EU admission and I have not changed my position."

The dominant event in Obama's Prague itinerary came earlier on April 5, when the U.S. leader gave an open-air address outside Prague Castle before an enthusiastic crowd of 30,000.

His wife Michelle, who has generated headlines of her own during the couple's European tour, later toured Prague's Jewish Quarter before boarding a plane back to the United States.

The current shambolic state of Czech politics also drained expectations for the summit. The government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a no-confidence vote 11 days ago, barely halfway through the Czech Republic's six-month EU presidency.

But Obama, who finished the day by meeting with former Czech President Vaclav Havel before departing for Ankara, praised the meeting for picking up on the major economic and security talks begun at the G20 and NATO summits.

"Overall I appreciate the extraordinary leadership that the EU and [the European Commission] have shown. We are looking forward to continuing this cooperation. Obviously the relationship between the United States and Europe is already strong," Obama said.

"There have been times where it appears at the margins that we are bickering, but the things that we have in common are so much more significant than those things that drive us apart."

Obama used his castle speech to lay out a vision for slow but steady progress toward a nuclear-free world.

Addressing the issue of Iran's nuclear program, he localized the issue by affirming U.S. commitment to the Czech and Polish missile defense system until a time when countries like Iran were no longer viewed as a palpable threat.

That may not been soon enough for some missile-defense opponents, who gathered today for a large rally on Wenceslas Square in central Prague to protest the country's proposed radar installment.

Topolanek, whose government backed the missile-defense initiative, said Prague would be prepared to drop the radar construction if and when Tehran agrees to comply with its obligations to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

"If we succeed in convincing Iran to comply with its international obligations in nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and renunciation of the use of nuclear weapons or nuclear arsenals for military purposes, then maybe this threat will disappear," Topolanek said.

"When that happens, we can start dancing in Wenceslas Square [in central Prague] and abandon initiatives like missile defense."