29th Feb 2024

EU praises Bush for wanting 'end' to Guantanamo

The EU has welcomed US president George W. Bush's statements on ending the Guantanamo prison camp, with the Austrian chancellor saying after Wednesday's bilateral summit that it is "grotesque" to claim that the US is harmful to world peace.

Speaking to journalists following the talks at the EU-US summit in Vienna on Wednesday (21 June), Mr Bush confirmed he shared a "desire" with his European counterparts for getting rid of the controversial detention centre in Cuba.

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"I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with," he said, adding that the US authorities are planning to send some of over 400 inmates currently held there back to their home countries, while others should be tried by the US courts because they were "cold-blooded killers."

"They will murder somebody if they're let out on the street... And yet, we believe there ought to be a way forward in a court of law, and I'm waiting for the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the proper venue in which these people can be tried."

Europe has on numerous occasions called for the closure of the prison camp – referring to it as an "anomaly" - as the prisoners are being denied a trial, with some reports saying they have been tortured.

Wolfgang Schussel, the chancellor of Austria which currently holds the six-month EU presidency, said Mr Bush was well aware of the European concerns and had opened the debate on the issue himself at the summit, "without waiting for us to raise it."

"I just stressed one thing: we can only have a victory in the fight against terror if we don't undermine our common values," said Mr Schussel.

The Austrian leader said Europe had received "clear signals and commitment" from the US president that there would be no torture or extraordinary detention involved in Washington's anti-terror activities.

"But we have to help if we're to find a way-out strategy, to help countries to take back the prisoners, either to charge them or to release them. And there are international organizations which could help and could assist," noted Mr Schusel.


Despite a positive welcome by his European colleagues, Mr Bush's visit has attracted student protesters chanting "Bush go home!" at a Vienna train station, while 10,000 more demonstrators were expected to express their anger later during the day.

Ahead of the visit, several European papers published popular polls suggesting EU citizens view Washington's foreign policy under the current administration as a threat.

Mr Bush said it was "absurd" to compare the US and such countries as Iran or North Korea, but acknowledged that many Europeans disagreed with his decision to launch a war in Iraq.

The US president noted he would "try [his] best to explain to Europeans" the essence of his country's policy, but also pointed out that diverging viewpoints may continue due to different experiences of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us it was a change of thinking. I vowed to the American people I would do everything I could to defend our people, and I will."

He said he would not "forget the lessons" of the event or back down to pressure from popular polls, adding "I don't govern by polls, you know. I just do what I think is right."

Chancellor Schussel rushed to give strong backing to his American colleague saying Europeans should not be "naive" and consider themselves invulnerable against terrorism.

"It is grotesque to say that America is a threat to peace in the world," Mr Schussel added.

US presses Iran

The summit, dubbed by the Austrian leader as "fruitful and positive", also sent a common message to Iran and North Korea from the two world powers.

Reacting to the announcement by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Tehran would reply to the international community's latest compromise package only in August, Mr Bush said this was a "long time."

"It should not take the Iranians that long to analyse what is a reasonable deal," he said.

The Austrian chancellor followed suit, saying "it is better to agree as soon as possible, as time is limited."

"Now is the right moment for Iran to take this offer and accept it," Mr Schussel added.

The two leaders also agreed to press North Korea against pursuing its plan to test a long-range missile.

"North Koreans have made agreements with us in the past and we expect them to keep their agreements," Mr Bush told journalists, with Mr Schussel backing the stance.

US court backs European criticism of Guantanamo

The US Supreme Court has ruled the use of military commissions to try prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay prison unconstitutional and against the international Geneva Conventions. The move was immediately welcomed by European politicians.

EU supply chain law fails, with 14 states failing to back it

Member states failed on Wednesday to agree to the EU's long-awaited Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive, after 13 EU ambassadors declared abstention and one, Sweden, expressed opposition (there was no formal vote), EUobserver has learned.

Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices

Following weeks of demonstrations across Europe, farmers returned to Brussels to protest over unfair competition in prices, as EU agriculture ministers met just a few metres away to discuss a response. The police used water cannon and tear gas.

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