EU, U.S. Play Down Rifts at Summit

Times Staff Writer

European Union leaders presented President Bush on Saturday with a list of grievances, including abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but both sides insisted that relations were on the mend.

With Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at his side outside picturesque Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Bush proclaimed that “the bitter differences of the war are over.”

“Some people didn’t agree with the decisions I made and others made as well,” Bush declared after a summit with European Union leaders in Ireland, whose leader is ending a six-month term as the body’s rotating president.


“But we all agree that a democratic Iraq and a peaceful Iraq and an Iraq which has its territory intact is in all our benefit,” Bush said.

Bush’s European trip -- his last major diplomatic mission before the November elections -- was met with widespread protests across Ireland, reflecting the president’s poor standing with the public.

“I care about the image of our country,” Bush said about the protests. “As far as my personal standing goes, my job is to do my job. I’m going to do it the way I think is necessary. I’m going to set a vision, I will lead, and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

Ahern said he and Irish President Mary McAleese expressed concerns to Bush during private meetings about alleged abuse of Iraqi and Afghan prisoners by U.S. personnel, saying it was not the first time they had raised such issues.

Ahern did not say how Bush responded, but added: “The questions were answered, as far as we were concerned, to our satisfaction.”

Protests around Dromoland Castle in western Ireland closed down roads, delaying the arrival of Bush, Ahern and European Commission President Romano Prodi. The protesters were kept away from the castle and its visitors. The only sounds heard during the leaders’ remarks were the lowing of cows and the quacking of ducks.


The summit was the first of two that Bush is attending this weekend in an effort to improve relations with allies, many of whom disagreed with his decision to invade Iraq.

Despite public assurances that those disagreements were in the past, leaders who opposed the war now find themselves facing a tough decision. If they continue to confront Bush, they risk further alienating a president who may be reelected in the fall. But if they are conciliatory, they risk angering their own electorates, who also have opposed the war.

As a result, few observers expected significant movement on major areas of dispute, and none was announced. The two sides did finalize an agreement that would link the satellite navigation systems each operates -- GPS in the United States, and Galileo in Europe -- to form an integrated system in 2008.

They also released a flurry of other declarations on increasing trade, enhancing travel security, improving intelligence sharing and promoting peace in Sudan.

Bush expressed hope that North Atlantic Treaty Organization members meeting in Turkey would agree at least to provide training and equipment for Iraqi forces.

“I hope NATO responds in a positive way because the ultimate success inside Iraq is going to depend on the ability of the Iraqi citizens to defend themselves,” Bush said.


“NATO has the capability -- and I believe the responsibility -- to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that’s facing their country,” Bush said.

White House officials downplayed the protests and described the U.S.-EU summit as the most productive in recent years. “The fact of protests is not necessarily indicative of all that much,” a senior administration official told reporters on Air Force One following the summit.

“The point of this summit was that the governments are working on it clearly from a much more common set of assumptions,” the official said. “That’s important. Last year, the same could not have been said.”

After the summit in Ireland, Bush flew to Ankara for meetings with Turkish leaders in advance of the NATO summit in Istanbul.