Bush, Simitis and Prodi met at the White House and they agreed on rules of … disagreement
By Apostolis Zoupaniotis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Seeking to heal rifts opened by the war against Iraq, President Bush, Prime Minister of Greece and President of the European Council Costas Simitis and European Commission President Romano Prodi of Italy met on Wednesday at the White House for the annual Summit of the EU and the United States.
The U.S. and the EU agreed on a common agenda for a variety of issues – terrorism, aviation, nonproliferation, energy and trade – designed to help ease the tension.
Speaking at a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, Bush described the meeting as very good and spoke of strategic partner relations. The Greek prime minister said that the meeting was fruitful and constructive, underscoring that Washington and Brussels should avoid the creation of tension by appropriately dealing with their differences.
Prodi underscored that the EU and the U.S. should stick together because Europe was too old and the U.S. was too young to be able to bring peace to the world. Prodi was responding to American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s comment – made during the bitter Iraq war debate – that France and Germany represented old Europe and that the center of gravity was shifting east.
“This is our first meeting after the crisis in Iraq. I want to stress, because many people said that there was a serious period of strain, that the transatlantic relationship does work, it produces results and it is important for both of us,” said Simitis.
Simitis also stated that, “the United States and the European Union cannot possibly have and share the same opinions in all areas of foreign policy or trade interests . There will be issues and times where we will differ. But friendship presupposes that we will have to agree to differ, to accept to differ. And friendship presupposes that we must be disciplined and manage our differences. We should always act on the basis that what unites us will always outweigh any issue that divides us.”
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 Teheran 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:
Speaking at a separate press conference, Simitis briefed Greek reporters on the agenda of talks which he said included a variety of issues including transatlantic relations, the Middle East and the role of the ”Hamas” group, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, the signing of two EU-U.S. judicial cooperation agreements, the Galileo program, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Africa, Cyprus, trade and financial matters, the agreement for the use of hydrogen, Iran, North Korea, genetically modified products, the “open skies” program as well as the EU’s new defense strategy and cooperation with NATO.
With regard to the Cyprus issue, which is of particular importance to Greece, Simitis said he had shown Bush the need for UN-sponsored talks, and for the Turkish side to be pressured into changing its stance on the issue. He said Bush had acknowledged that and pledged his support for efforts to re-start talks.
“I do not understand how it is that when I cross the border I am great, and when I am inside the border I am terrible,” said Simitis in response to a question on whether he was going to use the “recipe” of the EU presidency on the interior.
“The government must turn back to issues of the interior,” he added.
With Good Humor
As it was reported to the L.A. Times, the lightest note of the meeting 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, although their political activities are recognized by Europe as legitimate. The EU has included only Hamas’ military wing on its list of terrorist groups.
In the joint news conference, 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 Middle East 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,” Savvaides said. “There isn’t any alternative.”