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U.S. Floats New Approach To Counterterrorism With EU

European Justice and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot (pictured) said after meetings with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the United States "want[s] to change the way terrorism is fought."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has proposed to European Union leaders they adopt a joint approach to fight terrorism and set aside divisions spurred by the Iraq war and Guantanamo prison abuses, EU officials said.

The proposal was described as a broad idea in the early stages, and came as the two sides discussed a U.S. desire for Europe to accept inmates from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects are held.

President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the internationally condemned prison within a year and an end to harsh interrogation of suspects held there.

"The United States really wants to turn the page.... They want to change the way terrorism is fought," European Justice and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot said after meetings with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is overseeing the closure.

Speaking through an interpreter, Barrot predicted, "We would accept to receive any detainees only if it was absolutely clear that the errors of the past were not repeated."

Barrot and Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, representing the EU Presidency, also said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg had floated the idea of a joint declaration on terrorism during their meeting.

"It is a write together a memorandum of understanding enunciating the principles that should inspire our common fight against terrorism," Barrot said.

A number of European governments, notably France and Germany, opposed the Iraq War and former President George W. Bush's assertion that it was part of a global war on terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks.

They also joined other international leaders in condemning abuses that surfaced at Guantanamo.

About 240 terrorism suspects, including suspected planners of the September 2001 attacks, remain in the prison. Many have been held for seven years without charges and some were subjected to interrogation techniques denounced by critics as torture.

The United States faces political resistance to holding those prisoners on U.S. soil after Guantanamo is closed and it is hoping to transfer some detainees to Europe while freeing others.

That idea is controversial in Europe because the detainees would be free to travel within the EU once they were accepted by one of its members.

Barrot and Langer said they gave a list of questions to Holder, which, among other things, raised the issue of broad sharing of information on the prisoners' backgrounds and fates.

In a statement the Justice Department said Holder pledged "to provide information that would help [the EU and member states] make their own determinations on individual detainees."

A State Department spokesman had no comment.

Langer described the U.S. idea as "very fresh proposal" and said it could be taken up at high-level meetings next month. He added that it appeared to be a general document covering "everything we want to do in the fight against terrorism."

There are concerns particularly in Washington that the United States and Europe disagree over how to combat terrorism. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said in January before he stepped down that he was worried by such a split.