Analysis: Bush declares peace with Europe

By ROLAND FLAMINI, UPI Chief International Correspondent   |   June 26, 2004 at 2:25 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, June 26 (UPI) -- President George Bush has the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. president in memory to get a poor reception in Ireland.

Kennedy was warmly welcomed, as was Clinton. Ronald Reagan brought Dublin to a standstill, cheered by more than 100,000 people.

Bush's visit was limited to a chilly overnight stay in Dromoland Castle, a 16th century pile turned luxury hotel 8 miles from Shannon Airport where he landed Friday.

Thousands of police and troops were mobilized to protect the president in the biggest security operation Ireland has ever known. Part of their role was to keep out of sight a few thousand protesters who had gathered to demonstrate against the U.S. presence in Iraq, root cause of Bush's unpopularity in much of Europe.

The purpose of Bush's visit was not to kiss the Blarney Stone, however, but to attend Saturday's annual U.S.-EU summit. At the White House's request the European side was slimmed down to a half dozen representatives of the 25-member organization. That too was to protect Bush. It was done to spare him having to listen to an endless succession of speeches as happened at last year's summit.

And that was before the May 1 enlargement, when there were only 15 heads of government to contend with.

At the end of the 3-hour talks the summit issued a spate of joint statements on Iraq, the Middle East, counter-terrorism, U.S.-EU economic cooperation, HIV-AIDS, and nuclear proliferation. The overall message of these documents was to demonstrate that trans-Atlantic differences over Iraq had been resolved and the United States and its traditional allies in Western Europe were again confronting world problems together.

"I think the bitter differences over the (Iraq) war are over," Bush declared. Chris Patten, the EU commissioner responsible for foreign relations, echoed this view. It was time to put aside the dispute over the conflict, he said. "All of us are worried that violence could lead to Iraq flying apart in the next few months, and it's in everyone's interest to work together to stop that from happening."

In the Iraq joint declaration the Bush administration was forced to swallow a call for "the need for full respect of the Geneva Convention" -- an oblique reference to the still-unraveling Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. The document also supports a role for NATO in training and equipping Iraq's armed forces, but does not actually mention the Atlantic alliance because the details of this commitment are still being worked out in advance of next week's NATO summit in Istanbul.

But it is clear that an agreement on training is the best Bush can expect in response to his request for NATO troops in Iraq to ease the pressure on hard-pressed U.S. forces in that strife-torn country.

On the plus side for Bush, the declaration says the United States is responsible for providing electrical power, telecommunications and oil production services all of which adds up to big contracts. The European countries agree in principle to give further consideration to writing off part of Iraq's $120 billion debt -- but with the International Monetary Fund supervising projects financed with the money saved. Left unsaid is the European concern that debt relief will end up making more money available for U.S. contractors.

The EU said it will engage Iraq more closely in future, and a European source in Brussels told United Press International that the EU plans to open an Iraq diplomatic office shortly. The joint declaration ends with a hint to the Iraqi interim government that an international conference on Iraq might be a good idea -- something Washington has not encouraged.

The joint statement on the Middle East is almost ritualistic in its recital of the participants' intention to continue to develop the "road map for peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. It also supports Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza.

The summit also endorsed a number of counter-terrorism measures, including the transfer of data on European airline passengers to the U.S. authorities. But the arrangement is expected to run foul of the European Parliament, which wants the European Court to look into it as a possible breach of privacy.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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