VIENNA (Reuters) – President Bush began talks with European leaders on Wednesday at which he will urge his allies to keep pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, but he faced complaints over trade issues.
Ties between the United States and the European Union are improving, but EU leaders cautioned before the Vienna talks that Bush seems heavy-handed on security and said global trade talks would die without further concessions from Washington.
Bush has not regained the full confidence of Europeans since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which many people in Europe opposed.
From the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to strict U.S. visa requirements, Europeans say Washington is still showing too little consideration toward its transatlantic partners.
Bush met Austrian President Heinz Fischer, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of June, and was due later to see European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Before the U.S.-EU summit began, Barroso issued a new appeal to Bush to take a less hardline approach to security.
“We risk losing our souls,” he told the International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper.
“We are committed to the fight against terrorism. But if we suppress civil rights and civil liberties because we are fighting terrorists, that would be a victory for the terrorists,” he said, referring also to reports of collusion by EU governments in alleged CIA abductions of terror suspects.
In a gesture toward the EU, the United States appeared ready to sign a summit declaration with a reference to respect for human rights in the fight against terrorism.
The two sides will vow to “ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply fully with our international obligations, including human rights,” said a draft version of the declaration, which was obtained by Reuters.
IRAN, TRADE, VISAS
Bush was expected to underline that the United States and Europe must not ease up on Iran and should ensure that the threat of punishment such as sanctions remains real.
The West suspects Tehran’s nuclear program is a front for developing atomic weapons. Iran, which is the world’s fourth largest oil exporter and has the second largest oil and gas reserves, says its program is only for civilian purposes.
Washington has said it will join European talks with Tehran that are conditional on Iran giving up uranium enrichment — a step in the production of nuclear weapons — in return for an offer of trade and technology incentives.
“If Iran does not accept this offer then we return to the U.N. Security Council. That’s all part of the way forward,” White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.
Bush could face new pressure at the summit to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay which holds about 460 foreigners.
The summit gave the EU and Washington a chance to discuss differences blocking a new World Trade Organization (WTO) round.
The EU says the onus is on the United States to go further with cuts to subsidies for its farmers after Brussels showed it was ready to enhance its proposals for cutting import tariffs on farm goods as part of the WTO’s Doha round.
“There will be no Doha agreement if others do not move,” Barroso told the IHT. “If our American partners think it’s the end of the road, then there will not be a successful round.”
U.S. officials have dismissed the signals of an improved agricultural offer from the EU as mere sweeteners to proposals that fall far short of its demands.