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Bush to EU: We're Working on Closing Guantanamo

DW staff / DPA (win)June 21, 2006

US President George W. Bush and EU leaders Wednesday sent a warning to Iran and North Korea on their nuclear plans but avoided a public squabble over EU concerns at human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Bush said he himself would like Guantanamo to be over withImage: AP

At a summit designed to herald deepening transatlantic ties after several years of discord over the US-led Iraq war -- opposed by France, Germany and other EU states -- Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel went out of their way to focus on areas of agreement rather than discord. Austria is current president of the 25-nation EU.

EU USA Gipfel in Wien George Bush und Wolfgang Schüssel
Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang SchüsselImage: AP

"When we work together we can accomplish big things... the world needs us to work together," Bush told reporters at a joint news conference with Schüssel.

Bush said he fully understood differences with the EU over Iraq.

"What is past is past," he added.

US still working on solution for prisoners

Seeking to defuse rising EU anger at the Guantanamo Bay detention centers following the recent suicide of three detainees, the US president said he shared European concerns but had no immediate solution to the problem.

"I would like it to be over with," he said. "We will send people back to their home countries."

Guantanamo - Tipton Three
Some detainees, such as Britain's "Tipton Three", have been sent home alreadyImage: AP

An estimated 400 detainees are left in Guantanamo -- mainly from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen -- and 200 have been sent back, he said, adding that some of those in Guantanamo needed to be tried because they were "cold blooded murderers" who will "murder someone if out on the street."

Bush added that he was waiting "for the US supreme court to determine" how they would be tried.

Complying with human rights

A joint EU-US statement meanwhile did not include a specific reference to EU calls for the closure of Guantanamo Bay but the US vowed to ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism complied fully with human rights law.

Guantanamo Häftlingslager freies Bildformat
Complying with human rights law? Guantanamo prison campImage: AP

"Consistent with our common values we will ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply fully with our international obligations, including human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law," the statement stressed. "We attach great importance to our ongoing in-depth dialogue on our common fight against terrorism and our respective domestic and legal obligations."

EU diplomats said the text represented "a good success" for Europeans but admitted the language was not as specific or as strong as the 25-nation bloc would have liked.

Warning Iran...

Bush and the EU also sent a strong joint warning to Iran to take the "positive path" by re-engaging in nuclear talks with the international community.

Iran hat erfolgreich Uran angereichert Präsident Mahmoud Ahmadinedschad
Iran's Mahmoud AhmadinejadImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The US president said Iran's leaders had "weeks, not months" to respond to a new European incentives package aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Asked if he accepted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to reply to the European offer by mid-August, Bush told reporters: "It seems like a lot of time for an answer."

The US, the EU, Russia and China were united in telling Iran "you get to choose," said Bush, referring to earlier US and European statements that Tehran had a choice between accepting further talks or being hauled in front of the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

...and North Korea

Anti-amerikanisches Plakat aus Nordkorea
A North Korean anti-US posterImage: AP

The EU and the US also warned North Korea against testing long- range missiles, saying Pyongyang should return to six-party talks meant to coax the reclusive country to abandon its nuclear weapons project.

"We expect North Koreans to keep their agreements," Bush said. "It makes people nervous when non-transparent regimes announce they have nuclear warheads."

The six-party process involves North and South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia. The talks have been stalled since November.

Defending US in Europe

EU USA Gipfel in Wien Demonstration
Leftist protesters in Vienna on WednesdayImage: AP

Asked by reporters why he thought the US had a bad image in Europe -- where public polls continue to show deep wariness of US foreign policy -- Bush said he did not intend to bow to such pressure.

"It is absurd for people to think we are more dangerous than Iran," the US President said, adding that while the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US were a "moment" for the EU, they marked "a change in our way of thinking."

He said he was doing his best to explain that US foreign policy was "tough but compassionate."