EU seeks cross-Atlantic rapprochement

European Union foreign ministers tried to bury their differences in Greece even as the US continued to court their eastern neighbours

    Greek foreign minister Papandreou huddles
    with EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana

    Meeting
    on the easternmost point of the EU - the Greek island of Rhodes - EU foreign ministers sought today to forge a new common policy on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.         

     

    Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, the meeting's host, said rebuilding Iraq and making peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be part of joint efforts by the EU and US to create stability across the Middle East.

     

    Citing the Iraq war, he urged EU governments to make a new start in crafting a common voice in world affairs. They could start by defining a single view on strategic issues which have caused disputes with the United States.

     

    "Everyone is aware of the tension and mutual distrust that cast their shadow on the relationship between the EU and the USA," said a statement by the Greek EU presidency, the host of the talks.

     

    "I think that it is an important turning point, and we need to use it in a positive way," added Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou.

     

    "I think the big problem is that Europe is not trying to proceed with one common foreign policy," said Sweden's Anna Lindh, referring to the EU's aim to speak with one voice on the world stage - undermined spectacularly by the Iraq crisis.

     

    "We are asking questions to see if there is common ground," said an official from the European Commission. "It's clear that if the EU members had a shared position it would maximise the EU voice."

     

    What happened? The Iraq war precipitated
    the current crisis in EU-US relations  

    Any common EU policy was ripped apart by the Iraq war, with an anti-war camp led by France and Germany in head-on collision with US-friendly countries like Britain and Spain.

     

    The issue moved centre stage after a mini-summit Tuesday by the anti-war gang of four - France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg - who called for deeper military integration.

     

    Several countries, led by EU military heavyweight Britain, poured scorn on the initiative.

     

    "Iraq was an important turning point," Papandreou told reporters before the meeting.

     

    He listed, among other things, the Israel-Arab conflict, Mideast stability in general, terrorism, countries with weapons of mass destruction and the role of European nations in the NATO alliance.

     

    "Europe (must) develop its own strategic thinking" to avoid a repeat of the divisions over the Iraq war and the sudden souring that followed in the once close relationship with America, he said.

     

    Road map

     

    One issue on which accord can be expected is the Middle East, following the publication of a "roadmap" to peace which was widely applauded.

     

    "I hope that this window of opportunity which is open will be used by everybody intelligently and constructively," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

     

    Moving the meeting to tranquil Rhodes
    reduced the possibility of large-scale
    protests like the ones in Athens last month

    He praised efforts on both sides of the conflict, but added: "The situation is not easy. The task we have ahead of us is going to be difficult but we have to try, to try very hard to implement it," he said.

     

    One unusual confidence-building exercise aimed at refreshing ties between the two blocs was a brainstorming exercise proposed by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou. He asked three dozen leading intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to propose remedies for ties severely strained by differences over the Iraq war.

     

    Their verdict was that the unprecedented rifts that have developed between the EU and the US over the course of the recent invasion of Iraq, can only be healed by a new transatlantic dialogue and closer economic cooperation.

     

    "The transatlantic rift over strategy is here to stay... and will continue to endanger both transatlantic trust and transatlantic institutions," wrote Christoph Bertram, director of the German Political Science Foundation.

     

    Among the sharpest differences were those over how to deal with "rogue states" seeking weapons of mass destruction, when to use force, with what resources and with what international authority, and how to pursue the fight against "terrorism".

     

    The EU has used different terms of engagement in dealing with Iran, Syria and Cuba than the US, opting for a conciliatory path that lays the onus on trade and mutual benefit rather than threatening military action.

     

    But disputes over a global climate change treaty, an international war crimes tribunal and how to approach the Middle East and the Islamic world have also fuelled discord. EU members of the G8 group of industrially advanced countries went some way towards decreasing the tension over the environment when they effectively sidelined the Kyoto Accord in Paris last week.


    US reaps East European dividends

     

    Colin Powell, en route to Damascus for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, stopped over in Albania to sign an agreement with the United States on Friday to exempt Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

     

    The deal commits Albania not to hand over US citizens to the newly-established tribunal, which is opposed by President George W Bush on the grounds that it could expose Americans to politically motivated prosecution.

     

    Albania is the 32nd country to accede to the US demand for exemption, most of them small states. The bulk of the 139 nations that signed the ICC's founding treaty, including all 15 EU members, have resisted similar pressure from Washington.

     

    Powell said the agreement "does show the closeness of the relationship that we enjoy, a relationship that will grow ever closer in the months and years ahead".

     

    Romania, another EU aspirant member from the former communist bloc, signed the so-called Article 98 agreement with the United States last August, while denying it had done so simply in order to win US support for membership of NATO.

     

    Both Albania and Romania vocally backed the US invasion of Iraq, and the Albanians sent 70 soldiers to US-held Baghdad.

     

    After thanking Albanian leaders for their support, Powell joined the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to sign a "US-Adriatic Partnership Charter".

     

    This is intended to speed the accession to NATO of the three Balkan countries, which were left out of the US-led alliance's latest membership enlargement deal.

     

    The move is unlikely to endear Albania to the EU, which the eastern European country hopes to join.


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