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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
Buoyant Bush sees common ground
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Vienna

US President George W Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel
President Bush and Chancellor Schuessel seemed in good spirits
At the end of the news conference given by US President George W Bush, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the US president leant over to the Austrian chancellor and said off-microphone: "Good job."

And it felt like that. President Bush had bounced through the news conference, speaking with confidence and in some detail. The Austrian chancellor was '"Wolfgang", the EU commission president, "Jose".

Over 16 closely-typed pages the EU-US summit communique spreads, taking in subjects as diverse as biodiversity, the regulation of financial markets and the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That is the work of the diplomats and civil servants who have been labouring for weeks and months to bring together the EU-US positions.

And while they may be just words, and good intentions, rather than events and deeds, the gaps between US and European positions appears to have narrowed.

Talking shop?

The EU has grown alarmed at what it sees as US insouciance over climate change. In the communique there is a new drive to find common ground on the subject.

A "High Level Dialogue on Climate Change, clean Energy and Sustainable Development" might sound like a talking shop with a fancier name, but it is a lot better than no dialogue whatsoever.

The EU and the US share a common problem over energy - lots of demand and not much domestic supply. The communique commits them to finding common solutions, sharing new technologies and promoting diversification.

Delegations at meeting table
The table is wide - but has the Atlantic gap narrowed?

Even visa-free travel for the new member states of the EU - the lack of which can hardly keep the state department awake at nights, but does irritate the EU - got a mention, with the summit recognising "the need for tangible progress to be made".

From some of the pre-summit chat you would have been forgiven for thinking that the core subject was none of the lofty subjects mentioned but instead the future of a detention centre off the south-east coast of the US.

Guantanamo Bay has become the lightning rod for European concerns over the way in which the US prosecutes the war on terror.

Understanding concerns

It was not mentioned by name in the summit conclusions, but when President Bush spoke to the media, he did not wait to be asked about it.

He said he understood the concerns of Europe's leaders and citizens "about what Guantanamo says... I also shared my deep desire with them to end this program, but also I assured them that we are not going to let people out on the street that will do you harm".

It was, along with a comment in the conclusions about upholding human rights in the fight against terrorism, a good-sized nod towards Europe's concerns. No-one thought that Europe was going to persuade the US to close Guantanamo.

This was about as good as it was ever going to get.

US President George W Bush and Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer
Mr Bush is welcomed by Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer

Hanging over the entire summit was the biggest question of all. Could the EU and the US patch up the divisions over Iraq which tore their relationship apart?

Poll after poll shows European alarm over US foreign policy. A recent poll showed that Europeans considered the US more of a threat to world peace than Iran, something which leaves some American diplomats shaking their heads in amazement and some disgust.

President Bush addressed the issue in his trademark style, but with more subtlety when it came to content.

"Some people," he said, "say it's okay to condemn people to tyranny. I don't believe it's okay to condemn people to tyranny. And I'll try to do my best to explain to the Europeans that on the one hand we are tough on the war on terror, and on the other we are providing more money than ever before in the world's history for HIV and Aids on the continent of Africa.

"I'll do my best to explain our foreign policy. On the one hand it is tough when needs be, on the other hand it's compassionate."

Important stagecraft

It may sound like the same old fighting talk. But note the use of the word "explain" - it has a different sound to it than the days when the US ignored or even scorned those allies it disagreed with.

And from the European side there was a response. Chancellor Schuessel described as "grotesque" the view that the US was a greater threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea.

He reminded listeners of the situation in Europe in the year that he was born, 1945.

"At that time," said the chancellor, "Vienna and half of Austria lay in ruins. Without the participation of America, what fate would Europe have had, where would Europe be today?"

That is the sort of thing you normally hear from right-wing Americans, not European leaders.

There is much, much more to be done to bring Europe and America closer together. These summits are always to some degree exercises in stagecraft. But such stagecraft is important. Both sides had something to be pleased about as the summit came to an end.


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