- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Trans-Atlantic tensions have eased, but Iraq and terrorism will still dominate the agenda as President Bush travels to Ireland tonight for a quick two-day summit with leaders of the European Union.

With Mr. Bush facing an election battle in five months and EU leaders struggling to win popular endorsement for a new constitution, analysts predict few major policy breakthroughs in closed-door talks tomorrow at Dromoland Castle in southwest Ireland.

“We’re in a bit of a holding pattern now,” said James C. Rosapepe, a former U.S. ambassador to Romania and now a private equity investor.

“I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest on either side to promote a vision of conflict right now,” said Mr. Rosapepe, who recently visited several EU capitals.

Charles Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted that European leaders skeptical of the war in Iraq and Mr. Bush’s overall foreign policy will be unlikely to take major risks to make the summit a success.

“They are trying to figure out how to keep this month on target, not have a train wreck, and at the same time not do George Bush any favors,” Mr. Kupchan said. “That is to say, not give him things that would increase his chances for re-election, such as new troops in Iraq or a NATO decision to go to Iraq.”

The U.S. delegation will spend 18 hours in Ireland, leaving tomorrow afternoon for a visit to Turkey and the NATO summit in Istanbul.

Mr. Bush will meet in Ireland with European Commission President Romano Prodi and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. The president also will talk with U.S. and European business leaders before flying to Turkey.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Ireland stop will “demonstrate the strength of our relationship with the European Union” after the differences that emerged over the Iraq war.

U.S. officials see the stop as part of a month of intense fence-mending, dating from Mr. Bush’s D-Day trips to Italy and France, the Group of Eight summit in Georgia, and the EU and NATO gatherings in the next four days.

One Iraq-related item expected to come up at the EU summit is debt forgiveness for the country.

EU officials, briefing reporters in Washington, said summit leaders plan to issue a two-page accord calling for a major reduction in Iraq’s $120 billion foreign debt.

But France and other European countries are still balking at the size of the debt relief sought by the United States, and no deal has been reached.

EU officials also say that they expect to sign a cooperation agreement with the United States to advance on the Galileo global positioning satellite system. The joint venture between the European Commission and the European Space Agency is expected to come into operation by 2008.

Ireland has traditionally been a friendly stop for U.S. presidents seeking the Irish-American vote back home, but Mr. Bush could face sizable street protests during his stay. War protesters are hoping for tens of thousands of demonstrators.

But Mr. Rosapepe said the U.S.-EU summit, an annual affair, is not the focus of intense popular passions.

“The European soccer championships in Portugal are under way,” he said. “That’s a much bigger deal wherever you go on the continent.”

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