Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bush Will Stress United Front on Iran at U.S.-European Summit

Brendan Murray & Catherine Dodge, Bloomberg:
President George W. Bush will seek to maintain western unity in the confrontation with Iran and advance his priorities on Iraq and trade during a summit with European Union leaders tomorrow in Vienna.

The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran gives both the U.S. and the EU an incentive to close a rift opened by Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 in the face of strong international opposition.

The meeting comes as the U.S. has turned to diplomacy in dealing with Iran and European leaders have taken the lead in searching for a settlement. That makes it imperative to preserve a unified approach, says Charles Kupchan, the National Security Council's director of European affairs in the Clinton administration.

``At this critical moment in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, transatlantic solidarity is very important,'' said Kupchan, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. ``Tehran will be looking for cracks in the coalition and seeking to exploit them.''

The summit takes place less than a month before leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations meet in St. Petersburg, Russia, and will give Bush a chance to test some of the same themes he'll raise at the G-8.

In contrast to Iraq, the Bush administration has made a concerted effort to consult allies about Iran and North Korea, another potential nuclear threat. This has drained away some of the tension that developed between the U.S. and Europe during Bush's first four years in office.

``The tone in the Bush administration's second term has been different from the first, with much greater emphasis on diplomacy,'' Jon Wolfsthal, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a report on the meetings last week. ``This new approach sets the stage'' for greater cooperation, he said.

Bush Priorities

In a speech yesterday, Bush said he wants to use the Vienna meeting to parlay solidarity on Iran into closer U.S.-European cooperation on the Middle East and the war on terrorism. He said he would also seek progress in global trade talks that are stalled over a dispute on farm subsidies. He used the word ``united'' three times to describe U.S.-EU relations. READ MORE

Bush signaled that Iran is the top item on his agenda for the summit and said the meeting will send a message to Iranian leaders.

``America and our partners are united,'' Bush said in Kings Point, New York, at the commencement of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. ``We have presented a reasonable offer. Iran's leaders should see our proposal for what it is: an historic opportunity to set their country on a better course.''

Iranian Incentives

The U.S., U.K., France, China and Russia -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council --along with Germany offered Iran on June 6 a package of incentives, including providing fuel for a civilian nuclear power reactor, if the government in Tehran stops all uranium enrichment activity.

Iran's response has been mixed. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week called the proposal a ``step forward.'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said June 18 that Iran wants ``unconditional'' talks and accused the U.S. of making ``illogical requests.''

While Bush and EU leaders aren't likely to disagree on Iran at this stage, differences may emerge if Iran rejects a compromise, Kupchan said. ``The EU and the U.S. may well part company when it comes to imposing major economic sanctions and contemplating the use of force,'' he said.

Summit Format

White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said last week that major developments on Iran aren't likely in Vienna because the leaders of the U.K., Germany and France, the countries that have led EU talks with Iran, won't be there. The format for the annual summit traditionally includes only the U.S. and EU presidents and the head of the European Commission.

Bush is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jose Barroso and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose nation currently holds the rotating EU presidency, before holding a news conference.

A European Commission official, briefing reporters in Brussels yesterday, confirmed that Iran would be a top-priority issue in Vienna. The official said European leaders planned to raise at least two potentially contentious matters: the U.S. detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and European concerns about congressional efforts to restrict foreign investment in the U.S.

The U.S. will press for European and Middle Eastern countries to honor financial pledges made to help rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. About $13.5 billion was pledged and only $3 billion has been paid.

Trade Talks

The leaders will discuss cooperation on counterterrorism, particularly halting funding of terrorists and preventing access to weapons of mass destruction, Hadley said. Bush also will ``renew his call for an ambitious outcome'' on World Trade Organization negotiations aimed at lowering subsidies.

To jump-start trade talks, Bush said the U.S. is willing to cut farm, manufacturing and other subsidies provided the EU offers greater reductions in farm import duties and developing countries including Brazil and India scale back tariffs on industrial goods.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said July 16 in Brussels that the U.S. is ``offering to pay too little for what it is demanding in return.''

While Bush is making diplomatic gains with European leaders, the European public's view of the U.S. is declining.

Those holding a favorable view of the U.S. declined 23 percentage points in France, 27 points in the U.K. and 41 points in Germany between 2000 and this year, according to a poll published earlier this month by the Pew Center for the People and the Press in Washington.

Bush's war against terrorism and the U.S. military campaign in Iraq were the main reasons cited for the declines, according to Pew, which surveyed 17,000 people March 31-May 14 in the U.S. and 14 other countries.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Brendan Murray in Washington at brmurray@bloomberg.net;
Catherine Dodge in Vienna at Cdodge1@bloomberg.net