26th Jan 2021

Bush mounts charm offensive on last EU tour

  • George W. Bush is on his last EU trip before leaving office in January (Photo: Irish Presidency)

US president George W. Bush, on a farewell tour through Europe, has won the EU's support for tougher action against Iranian banks said to be involved in financing Tehran's nuclear programme.

The two sides agreed to introduce "additional measures," designed to "ensure that Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism," says a joint statement issued by the EU-US summit on Tuesday (10 June).

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The American leader described Tehran's nuclear ambitions as "incredibly dangerous" to world peace and spoke of an "urgency" to deal with the issue.

The UN Security Council has approved three rounds of sanctions against the Ahmadinejad regime - asset restrictions, travel bans on Iranian individuals and companies as well as ban on sale of items, which could be misused for military purposes.

At the moment, all eyes are on EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who will travel to Iran for the first time in two years this weekend (15 June). The trip is aimed at offering a set of incentives and penalties linked to its enrichment activities.

Mr Bush crossed the Atlantic to meet his European partners for the last time before leaving presidential office in January 2009. The trip includes - apart from the summit host country Slovenia - allies such as Germany, France, Italy and the UK.

In Slovenia, he held talks with Slovene prime minister Janez Jansa and the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Bilateral relations

EU-US relations under the Bush administration have not been a smooth ride, mainly due to Washington's unilateral military action against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The 2003 war resulted in a deep rift in transatlantic relations and caused a split within the then 15-nation union.

Much of the Tuesday's press conference tried to turn attention to the positive aspects of mutual ties, with president Bush evidently trying to charm his audience.

He opened his speech by saying "I said Slovenia was a little slice of heaven. I'd like to change my remark. Slovenia is a big slice of heaven." Mr Bush began his first European trip there after elected the US president eight years ago.

Slovene leader Janez Jansa, speaking on behalf of his country's EU presidency, described transatlantic ties as "solid and dynamic."

"Although we may have different approaches in some aspects, it should never overshadow the depth of our relations," he said, referring to the death penalty and the EU's ambition to introduce a mandatory target aimed at curbing CO2 emissions.

Climate change and visas

President Bush made it clear that Washington will not commit to ambitious green goals unless emerging economies come on board as well.

"Unless China and India are at the table, unless they agree to a goal and to the strategies to achieve that goal, then I don't see how any international agreement can be effective," he said.

The American leader also reiterated Washington's commitment to introduce visa-free travel for more EU countries as only 15 of them now enjoy this possibility.

"We are on our way to solving it in the way that will satisfy countries as well as the EU," Mr Bush said, indirectly responding to Brussels' recently expressed concerns that US security agencies will gain access to sensitive data via bilateral deals.

Mr Jansa, for his part, confirmed that "we are close to seeing new countries join the visa waiver programme soon."

But he warned against unreasonable security measures - a message linked to fresh US plans to set up an online registration system, collecting passengers' data 72 hours before they depart to the US.

"We remain determined to ensure that the need for enhanced security will not restrict visa free travel for our citizens," Mr Jansa said.

Support for Turkey

US President Bush once again threw his weight behind Turkey's EU bid by saying: "We strongly believe that Turkey ought to be a member of the European Union".

He praised the country's political and economic reform record and called for promoting democracy in the Balkans and the Middle East.

The EU and US together account for ten percent of the world population. Mutual trade amounts to €3 billion per day, the two make up 60 percent of the global GDP and provide 75 percent of world aid to poor countries.

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