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Europe

Transatlantic Summit Dominated by Anti-Terror Talks

A one-day transatlantic summit in Washington meant to smooth over Iraq-war tensions saw leaders making progress on anti-terror cooperation -- even as the U.S. urged Europe to cut off funding to Hamas.

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All smiles -- U.S. President Bush (right) shakes hands with Greek Prime Minister Simitis at the White House on Wednesday.

A fence-mending meeting aimed to bring EU and U.S. leaders closer together after the recent acrimony over the Iraq war in Washington on Wednesday dealt with a host of pressing transatlantic issues.

But given U.S. President George W. Bush’s bruising comments over the EU’s ban on genetically-modified food on the eve of the summit, the mood wasn't exactly reconciliatory.

Instead, President Bush impressed upon a high-level EU delegation that European nations should cut off all funding for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Bush made the appeal directly to Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the current EU presidency.

"In order for there to be peace in the Middle East, we must see organizations such as Hamas dismantled," Bush said.

U.S. sees Hamas as obstacle to Mideast peace

The U.S., which recently brokered a landmark agreement between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, has long listed Hamas as a "foreign terrorist organization." President Bush has singled it out as the biggest hurdle to a U.S. and EU-backed "road map" to peace and wants the EU to follow suit by outlawing the group’s political wing.

"The true tests for Hamas and terrorist organizations is the complete dismantlement of their terrorist networks, their capacity to blow up the peace process," Bush said. He urged leaders in Europe and elsewhere to "take swift, decisive action" against Hamas and other groups, including cutting off funding.

But France opposes the move, insisting that Hamas is a necessary player in the region’s peace process. Hamas’ military wing, responsible for several suicide attacks on Israel since the beginning of the three-year-old intifada, or uprising, against the occupation of Palestinian territories, is already on an EU list of banned terrorist groups whose assets may be seized. The U.S. also called on European nations to sideline Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel and Washington accuse of inciting anti-Israel violence.

The controversy over genetically-modified food, which has snowballed into a major transatlantic trade dispute, also topped the agenda and officials said they saw little chance of progress. On Tuesday, President Bush enraged EU officials by implying in a speech Europe was indirectly contributing to famine in Africa by refusing to lift its ban on GM food.

Leaders intensify anti-terror cooperation

But despite the differences, the summit was seen as an important opportunity for leaders to put behind their past animosity, at a time when transatlantic relations are at an historic low, and pursue common goals.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas said the Europeans hoped the summit would "constitute the starting point for a new era in the strategic partnership between the United States and Europe after the tension that existed in recent months." Indeed, leaders reached deals on a series of outstanding issues on boosting anti-terror cooperation.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said EU and U.S. leaders would issue joint statements calling for a "comprehensive air services agreement" aimed at opening U.S.-European aviation markets. The two sides are also expected to embrace a legal assistance agreement that will allow U.S. and EU law enforcement agencies mutual access to bank accounts to trace terrorist funding.

Further accords include an agreement on container security that would give U.S. officials based in European ports the right to check shipping containers headed for the U.S. Fleischer said the two sides also decided to strengthen export controls aimed to counter illicit trade in suspected weapons of mass destruction.

The leaders expanded the range of offenses that qualify for extradition, and the EU, which opposes capital punishment, won the right to refuse extradition in cases where the death penalty may be imposed.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft lauded the anti-terror agreements reached at the summit. "These treaties focus not on our differences, but on our common values," he said.

EU Commission President Romano Prodi underscored the importance of transatlantic cooperation in the fight against terror. "When Europe and the United States are united, no problem and no enemy can stand against us," he said. "If we fail to unite, every problem may become a crisis and every enemy a gigantic monster."

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