EU-US summit opens in Slovenia with packed agenda

June 10th, 2008 - 4:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Brdo (Slovenia), June 10 (DPA) Top European Union (EU) officials were holding talks with US President George W Bush Tuesday at the start of his final European tour, designed to affirm trans-Atlantic ties before he leaves office in January. Iran, Afghanistan, climate change and rising global food prices were on the agenda for the EU-US summit, held this year at a secluded resort in the shadow of the Slovenian Alps.

“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Bush said as he left Washington Monday.

While the summit was meant to yield a final statement stressing broad points of agreement, Bush and EU leaders were unlikely to make decisive progress on a series of contentious issues.

On climate change, the Bush administration is seeking a EU commitment to press big emerging economies such as China and India to join any new global agreement to curb greenhouse gases.

“In order to be environmentally effective, it’s going to require actions and commitments not only by the developed countries but by the major emerging economies as well,” US presidential aide Dan Price said.

The EU - which joined the Kyoto Protocol against global warming while the US stayed out - believes rich nations should take the lead in setting binding reductions in the Earth-warming emissions.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country is chairing the EU for six months through June 30, said he expects the summit participants to agree on a wording that tries to reconcile both sides’ positions.

Iran was high on the agenda after White House calls for increased pressure to force Tehran to end uranium enrichment, which the West believes is aimed at building a nuclear bomb.

Backed by the latest UN sanctions against Iran in March, the Bush administration wants to enlist EU governments in tightening the squeeze on Iranian banks as a way to dissuade Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who was taking part in Tuesday’s summit, planned to visit Iran over the weekend for fresh talks aimed at changing Iran’s mind.

Iran says its nuclear programme has only civilian aims.

Also representing the EU on Tuesday were European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa as the current EU president.

With food prices surging, feeding the world emerged as a summit topic - and a chance for the US to test stiff EU objections to the spread of genetically modified crops.

“We have a challenge in this respect in that many on the European side still resist biotech,” Price said. “We have moved to the point in the biotech discussion where it must properly be viewed through the humanitarian lens.”

Trans-Atlantic ties have warmed a bit during Bush’s second term after the deep rift over the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, thanks to changes of government in Germany and France and efforts by Bush to reach out to Europe.

No major protests were expected during his 19-hour stay in Slovenia, which won independence from Yugoslavia in a brief 1991 war and has since joined NATO, the EU and the joint European currency, the euro.

The summit was nevertheless taking place amid tight security, with roof-top snipers and sniffer dogs called in to protect guests at the Brdo castle.

Other stops on Bush’s eight-day journey were Germany, France, Italy - including an audience with Pope Benedict XVI - and Britain.

But the US president came to Europe sapped by rock-bottom approval ratings at home and with European leaders knowing that a new man will take over the White House in January.

“Europe remains split and ambivalent toward this US president, who triggered an anti-American furore even among allies and friends in Europe with his Iraq and anti-terror policies,” the Austrian daily Die Presse said in an editorial Tuesday.

Europeans are unlikely to make a big effort to help Bush during his final months “because he is what he is - a lame duck - and everyone is waiting for what comes next,” the paper said.

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