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EU, US Present United Front Ahead of Vienna Summit

Deanne CorbettJune 20, 2006

Vienna is gearing up to host the next EU-US summit on Wednesday. While the relationship between the two powers is often described as "complex," this time, it seems there is consensus on the main issues up for discussion.

Things should be cozy when Bush meets with Barroso in ViennaImage: AP

Thorny, icy, fraught -- there's been no lack of such adjectives used to describe the state of relations between the European Union and the United States of late.

The next significant test of this relationship will come on Wednesday, when Austria hosts a regular EU-US summit in Vienna. But unity, not divisiveness could prove to be the order of the day on several of the hot-button issues expected to be discussed.

Indeed, addressing journalists at a recent roundtable at the United States Mission to the EU in Brussels, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kurt Volker said that "if you look at the scope of what the US and the European Union are working on together, and the depth of what we are doing together, this is the most robust partnership … that we have ever had."


On the continuing controversy over Iran's nuclear enrichment program, the EU welcomed Washington's May 31 decision to participate in direct talks with Iran if Tehran accepts a package of incentives to halt enrichment activity.

Javier Solana in Iran
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented a package of incentives to IranImage: AP

Previously, there had been concern that the US would be reluctant to approve the package, communicated to Tehran by EU negotiators. Volker, however, stressed that both powers were on the same page when it comes to Iran, sharing the concern that Iran not be permitted to have ownership and access to the full nuclear fuel cycle, as this would enable the country to produce nuclear weapons.

"That's what we, the EU-3, and others have been working on and that's what we're still working on," Volker said. "This package will come together and it will be presented as a joint package."

The tenor of discussions about Iran in Vienna will largely depend on whether Tehran formally reacts to the offer ahead of the summit, said Antonio Missiroli, chief policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center. He also stressed the fact that Iran's nuclear program is beyond being just a trans-Atlantic issue.

"It's tactically possible to find trans-Atlantic consensus on Iran, but if you want to carry this forward, you need a wider coalition that includes Russia and China, especially now that we're at the stage where the United Nations' Security Council is involved," Missiroli said.

Palestinian conflict

Ahead of the summit, the Europeans are finalizing a provisional mechanism to provide aid to the Palestinians that would see essential aid such as food, shelter and medical supplies being channeled to the most needy, while bypassing Hamas.

Missiroli said he was confident the US would support a plan to deliver humanitarian while bypassing Hamas, as "this logic is common to Americans and Europeans."

"From this point, we are on the same page."

Fatah-Anhänger stürmen Regierungsgebäude der Hamas
Palestinian factions are now engaged in infighting, worsening the situation for civiliansImage: AP

He added though, that the current political situation among the Palestinians, with increased clashes between Hamas militia and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, could create differences of opinion at the summit.

"What could be a problem is discussion of what is happening on the ground now between different factions of Palestinians, how to react to that, and how to take a stance that is useful for the future," Missiroli said.

Energy security

In the wake of record high fuel prices, which have hit US consumers hard, and a gas supply war which affected many EU countries at the start of the year, secure energy supplies are also expected to be a topic on the agenda in Vienna.

Kurt Volker of the US Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs said that both sides see eye to eye on principles such as the diversity of supply and the importance of developing alternative sources of energy, and added that he expects some statements on energy security to be made at the summit.

"These are things that the US and the EU share," he said. "We want to make clear that we agree on that and we will do so publicly."

Gasstreit zwischen Rußland und Ukraine beigelegt
When Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year, energy security became a top priorityImage: AP

However, he added that Russia and Ukraine as well as other nations would have to be brought into discussions about how to prevent monopoly ownership of energy sectors, such as natural gas.

Missiroli was doubtful that much would be decided on the energy issue at the summit, however.

"The Europeans are not united on how to deal with Russia on this issue," he said, referring to European infighting about deals with Russian gas companies seen as favoring certain countries while leaving others in the lurch.

"The second reason is that this is very much a G8 issue now, and there is a G8 summit in July," Missiroli said. "How useful would it be now for the EU and the US to come forward with a joint position that seems non-negotiable?"

Flies in the ointment

While both sides are at pains to accentuate the positive in their relationship, among the issues that could strike a discordant note in Vienna are the European Parliament's recent ruling deeming air passenger data transfers to the US illegal, and increased pressure from Europe on the US to close its prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik called Guantanamo an "anomaly" and demanded its closure. As Austria is hosting the summit, the issue is likely to be brought up.

With regard to passenger data transfers, there was speculation that the Americans could get tougher in their data requirements because of a perceived hostility of the European Parliament to the US.

While the procedures around passenger data transfer are due to be renegotiated, Missiroli said this was unlikely to happen at the summit.

"If there will be renegotiations of the deal, then that will happen behind the scenes in order to come up with a done deal, and this would happen at a later point in time, but certainly not at Vienna," he said.