NEWS

EU, US one step closer

In the first meeting of the leaders of the United States and the European Union since the runup to the Iraq war provoked a rift in the transatlantic alliance and between members of the EU itself, the two sides made a determined effort to bridge the gap. The annual summit confirmed the fact that Washington sets the agenda and the Europeans are keen to follow. «We are united in common values, and we will seek common solutions to our shared challenges. We’ve had a great meeting,» President George Bush said. «We should always act on the basis that what unites us will always outweigh any issue that divide us,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told a joint news conference in the White House. «The differences are shrinking. So we are growing together,» European Commission President Romano Prodi added. Bush summed up a major aspect of the transatlantic partnership, saying, «Both the United States and the EU are threatened by global terror and we are determined to defeat it.» This was supported by the EU’s adoption last week of proposals by its foreign policy and defense supremo, Javier Solana, for a security strategy that echoed Washington’s pro-active stance against security threats, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Also, yesterday Greek Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, representing the EU, and US Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed agreements on mutual legal assistance and the extradition of people suspected of terrorism. «Under these agreements, we will form joint investigative teams and share information on suspect bank accounts and expand the range of offenses that qualify for extradition,» Bush said. The two delegations discussed: the need to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their demand that Iran agree to international inspections; Middle East peace efforts; the US demand that the (wary) EU allow the importation of genetically modified organisms; the use of hydrogen energy; global trade and a comprehensive air services agreement. On the Middle East, both sides favor a peace agreement but the Europeans have not agreed with Bush’s call «to take swift, decisive action against terror groups such as Hamas, to cut off their funding and support.» Simitis stressed the need to avoid tension, saying, «Friendship presupposes that we must be disciplined and manage our differences.» He said the United Nations should play a leading role in international crises. «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.»