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5th Jul 2020

Iran, Guantanamo, trade talks to dominate EU-US summit

(Updated 21.06.2006 - 09:00 CET) EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The EU and US have a number of sensitive issues on the table for their one-day summit in Vienna on Wednesday (21 June), but diplomats insist the two powers have buried the hatchet over the war in Iraq and are now focusing on joint action on energy, Iran and the Middle East.

"Several sensitive subjects will be mentioned and referred to in a joint declaration because they just can't be dropped from the table.

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"But overall, this summit has been prepared with the American officials in a very good atmosphere and this will be surely reflected when the leaders meet in Vienna," one Brussels-based diplomat noted.

The newspapers headlines from the EU-US summit are likely to be dominated by the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Both the European Parliament and the Austrian presidency representing the 25-member club have issued several statements pressing Washington to close the detention centre, arguing it is an "anomaly" counter-productive in the fight against terrorism.

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel told MEPs on Tuesday (21 June) that they could be "sure" he would raise Guantanamo with US president George W. Bush.

Trade talks

Another painful issue is set to be the world trade talks where a move - mainly on farm subsidies - by both Brussels and Washington is needed to secure a breakthrough on the so called Doha round, set to be resumed at ministerial level next week in Geneva.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on the eve of the summit warned against anti-terrorism measures that could harm trade.

"We want to make sure that the security concerns that we respect can be dealt with in a manner that is not detrimental to our overall political relations, specifically on trade and investment," he told Financial Times Deutschland.

The EU is also to press president Bush to keep his promise to allow citizens from new member states to travel to the US without being required to have a visa.

This issue has featured prominently in several bilateral meetings between Brussels and Washington, but the EU raised the political rhetoric a notch this time round by threatening similar reciprocal measures.

Ahead of the talks, Mr Barroso accused the US of "discrimination" and of creating "second class citizens" by demanding visas only from new member states' citizens, according to Financial Times Deutschland.

On an international level, the US president is also likely to urge Europe to help with the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A free and sovereign Iraq requires the strong support of Europe," he said before starting his trip to Vienna.

Iran

But despite their differences, Brussels and Washington will try hard to use the summit forum to raise the profile of their joint diplomatic initiatives.

In a major policy shift on Iran, the White House recently opted to support the EU-led talks to convince Iran to accept a nuclear package presented by the EU foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, earlier this month.

"America and Europe are united on one of the most difficult challenges facing the world today: the behaviour of the regime in Iran,'' Mr Bush said on the eve of the summit.

The US president has warned that an Iranian rejection of the offer "will result in action before the Security Council, further isolation from the world and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions."

But while united on the support to the compromise package, his European counterparts may not share Mr Bush' views on how to proceed if Iran rejects it.

The transatlantic summit will also hear EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner report on her trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories and their reactions to the temporary scheme to provide aid to the Palestinians while by-passing the Hamas-led government.

Both the US and the EU feature in the so called Quartet - along with the UN, Russia - which has hammered out the instrument and conducts the peace process talks in the region.

Energy and climate change

The EU and US chiefs are also set to discuss possibilities to boost their co-operation on energy and energy security, amid looming oil prices and energy demand across the globe.

With 12 percent of the world's population, the two world powers currently consume 40 percent of global energy and produce 23 percent of the total.

"We need to step up our co-operation in this field but also common efforts for more energy efficiency," an EU official commented, pointing out that the average US citizen consumes twice as much energy as the average EU citizen.

Climate change will also feature on the agenda - a topic that Europe has been raising at every meeting with the American authorities without any significant results.

But this time there is more optimism from the European side.

"Finally, the US has come around to engage with EU on climate change.. We will start a new dialogue on this issue in the autumn," an official noted.

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