Iran Nuclear NewsEU, U.S. agree on Iran, Russia disputes

EU, U.S. agree on Iran, Russia disputes

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AP: As U.S. and European Union officials showcase closer ties at a summit Monday, they may have found common ground over Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s objections to a missile defense plan. Associated Press

By DESMOND BUTLER

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – As U.S. and European Union officials showcase closer ties at a summit Monday, they may have found common ground over Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s objections to a missile defense plan.

The day before the summit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso responded to recent comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russian President Vladimir Putin by expressing unity with the United States.

The comments come as U.S. and EU officials have made clear they would sidestep disagreements over global trade and climate change and highlight smaller signs of improving ties. Both sides have emphasized a proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to boost trans-Atlantic commerce by eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles.

Joint diplomatic efforts will also be on display. Barroso signaled Sunday that moves by Moscow or Tehran to divide the EU and the U.S. would backfire.

In an interview with CNN, Barroso, who will lead the European delegation with Merkel, responded strongly to Ahmadinejad’s suggestion last week that the EU needed to be more independent from the U.S.

European leaders and the U.S. have helped push through two sets of United Nations sanctions as part of international efforts to pressure Iran to make nuclear concessions. In response to Ahmadinejad, Barroso said Tehran should know that the concern about its nuclear program was coming from many parts of the world, not just Washington.

“They should understand that this is not just a concern of the United States. It’s a real concern of the international community,” he said. “I think the game should not be to try to divide the United States from Europe or Europe from the United States.”

Barroso also praised a comment by President Bush that he would be open to direct talks with Tehran, following a suggestion from Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign and security affairs chief.

Bush said last week that he would consider talks with Tehran if he thought they would be fruitful, but added he did not believe they would be.

Barroso also said Sunday that Russia, which has criticized the U.S. proposal to build a missile defense system in Europe, should not have a veto.

“Any sovereign state of the European Union has the right to establish security arrangements with others,” he said.

His comments follow a threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week to withdraw from a key post-Cold War treaty that set limits on the deployment of military forces in Europe.

“We believe that the announcement to suspend Russia’s participation in the CFE treaty, the Conventional Forces Treaty, that was a symbol of the Cold War, was, indeed, very disappointing,” Barroso said.

In recent months, Putin has stepped up criticism of U.S. foreign policies, including the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders and the missile defense plans. The U.S. has said the system is aimed at countering a threat from Iran.

Some European officials have also criticized the U.S. missile defense plans as provocative or unnecessary. Others have said the U.S. has inadequately consulted Russia, a charge that the U.S. has both rejected and responded to by stepping up talks with Moscow.

Merkel issued a statement praising U.S. moves to intensify talks with Moscow after she spoke with Putin by telephone over the weekend.

The comments by Merkel and Barroso just ahead of the summit seemed to illustrate the closer ties that Merkel has sought to foster after years of disputes over the Iraq war and the U.S. treatment of terror suspects.

Relations were boosted when Merkel assumed the EU’s rotating presidency in January. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to leave office, she is considered Bush’s best friend among European leaders, and the White House has welcomed her entreaties to repair European ties.

Merkel has specifically sought out a project that would engage the two sides as a priority for her presidency of the 27-nation bloc. Her proposal to harmonize European and U.S. regulations, such as those governing automobile safety standards or business takeovers, is designed to increase trade and lower costs.

Officials plan to announce an agreement Monday to establish a body to oversee the negotiations. They also will sign an pact to open up trans-Atlantic air routes.

On the Net:

European Commission site on summit: http://tinyurl.com/2uykk3

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