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Relations With 'Old Europe' Are on the Mend

At summit, U.S. and EU concur on several issues but are split on cutting off funds for Hamas.

June 26, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Seeking to heal rifts opened by the war against Iraq, President Bush and European leaders joked Wednesday about some of the sore points in their relationship -- from "old Europe" to genetically modified food.

At an annual summit on trade and other issues that drew more attention than usual because of recently strained ties, the United States and the European Union agreed on a common agenda for a variety of issues -- terrorism, aviation, nonproliferation, energy and trade -- designed to help ease the tension.

"We have not to waste our energy in talking about difference," said European Commission President Romano Prodi of Italy, adding that doing so would lead "nowhere." Still, he gently urged Bush to be less confrontational with America's traditional European allies.

"Many people have said that Europe is too old. Maybe," Prodi said, referring to remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld deriding France and Germany -- both of which opposed U.S. policy on Iraq -- as "old Europe." "But the old age helps us to understand our strength and our weakness and the reality of the world....

"If we stay alone, President [Bush], Europe is too old and the United States too young to be able to bring peace in this world," Prodi said. "And it is our duty to stay together to bring peace to the world."

In response, Bush quipped good-naturedly: "You're looking young to me."

The good humor contrasted with the deep frost in relations for most of the winter and spring. Perhaps the lightest note came after a discussion of genetically modified foods, which the U.S. insists are safe but the EU restricts.

After arguing that other nations should accept such crops -- whose genetic material has been altered to, for instance, improve resistance to disease -- Bush closed the session and invited the European leaders to lunch by saying, "Let's go eat some genetically modified food."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer indicated that the lunch was "usual White House fare" and likely did contain genetically modified ingredients. He did not say what they might be, but he did release the menu: grilled freshwater prawns, porcini risotto, fruitwood smoked Kobe beef tenderloin, pencil asparagus and glazed carrots, tomato and mozzarella tian, peach Melba and lemon pound cake.

Greece's ambassador to the United States, George Savvaides, said the Europeans took no offense at being served a genetically modified lunch.

"Nobody protested," he said with a laugh. "It was really good. I can attest to this. The quality was exceptional."

For all the bonhomie, the two sides remained divided on at least one significant issue: funding for Hamas, which the U.S. calls a Palestinian terrorist group but whose political activities are recognized by Europe as legitimate. The EU has included only Hamas' military wing on its list of terrorist groups.

In a joint news conference with Prodi and Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, which holds the rotating EU presidency, Bush called Hamas a "determined enemy of peace" and called for its disarmament.

Savvaides said there were fewer differences between the two sides on this issue than might appear. He pointed out that the EU is one of four sponsors of the Mideast peace plan known as the "road map."

"Both the United States and the European Union want to isolate the terrorists so the road map can succeed," he said. "There isn't any alternative."

Bush, Prodi and Simitis also sharply condemned North Korea and Iran for pursuing nuclear programs and pledged to tighten international controls on nuclear technology.

In a joint statement, they called on North Korea, which recently said it needs nuclear weapons to cut defense costs, to "irreversibly dismantle that program and to come into full compliance with international nonproliferation obligations."

Similarly, they called on Tehran to cooperate fully with an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran says its nuclear program exists only to generate electricity, but its activities have recently come under international suspicion.

On other issues:

* Law enforcement: The two sides signed an agreement broadening the number of crimes for which suspects may be extradited. It also authorizes the use of joint investigative teams, video testimony in court cases and better exchange of banking information.

* Aviation: The leaders agreed to open negotiations on a treaty that would reduce restrictions on American airlines in Europe and on European airlines in the U.S. That would probably include opening some domestic routes to competition.

* Energy: The leaders pledged to coordinate research and development of hydrogen fuel cells, which could significantly reduce pollution, especially from automobiles.

* Trade: The two sides vowed to work toward greater trade liberalization, including further integrating developing nations into the world trading system.

Simitis pointed to the summit's many agreements as a sign that relations, if not free of tension, are at least on the upswing.

"I want to stress, because many people said that there was a serious period of strain, that the transatlantic relationship does work," he said.

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