WASHINGTON – In "frank, open and clear discussions" with President Bush on Monday, European Union leaders reiterated their support for a strategic partnership with the United States and emphasized their decision to work together on stability and reconstruction in Iraq.
The U.S. and EU are hosting a conference in Brussels this week that includes more than 80 countries and several international organizations brainstorming on ways to build a "free and prosperous" Iraq.
"The EU is willing to host this conference with the United States in order to help this new democracy move forward and the reason why is many countries understand that freedom in the heart of the Middle East will make this world more peaceful," Bush said during a press conference Monday with Jean-Claude Juncker (search), EU president and Jose Manuel Barroso (search), president of the European Commission, the executive office that runs the EU's day-to-day affairs.
"We're making progress toward the goal, which is on the one hand a political process moving forward on Iraq; on the other hand Iraqis capable of defending themselves ... That's exactly the strategy that is going to work and it is going to work and we will complete this mission for the sake of world peace," Bush said.
Juncker and Barroso added that despite early differences on Iraq, the European Union is cooperating closely.
"Although some of us had some differences and divergencies with the U.S. when it came to Iraq, the fact that we are co-organizing and co-sharing this very important Iraq conference is showing that, when it comes to substance, when it comes to progress, when it comes to democracy, to freedom and to liberty, both the U.S. and the European Union are cooperating closely together and working in the same direction," said Junker, who is also the prime minister of Luxembourg.
"We really believe that the world is a better place when the United States and Europe works closely together," Barroso said.
Twelve EU members are contributing troops in Iraq, 25 are helping out in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq has never been popular in Europe. With more than 1,700 dead American military personnel, impatience is growing now in the United States and Bush told reporters that he understands the sensitivities, but failure is not an option.
"I think about Iraq every day. Every single day, because I understand we have troops in harm's way," Bush said. He said the United States will not bow to "cold-hearted killers."
"We will complete the mission and the world will be better off for it," he said.
Asked to explain the commitment to human rights, particularly after accusations, even within the United States, that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being mistreated, Bush said Guantanamo is open to International Red Cross inspectors 24 hours per day and the press corps is also welcome to go down and take a look at conditions of prisoners.
He added that the question of what to do with stateless "enemy combatants" still has to be decided.
"We're now waiting for a federal court to decide whether or not they can be tried in a military court where they'll have rights, of course, or in the civilian courts. We're just waiting for our judicial process to move the process along. Make no mistake, however, that many of those folks being detained — in humane conditions, I might add — are dangerous people," he said, adding that several have returned to the battlefield after being released from the naval station also known as Gitmo.
"I understand those of us who espouse freedom have an obligation and those who espouse human rights have an obligation to live up to those words," Bush said.
The EU and United States are working on a number of other fronts. NATO and EU forces are trying to help maintain some semblance of order in the Darfur (search) region of Sudan, where Arab Muslims in control of the government are flushing out poor black majorities from their homes.
The European organization has also taken the lead in negotiating with Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear power, which Iran claims is for peaceful purposes but outsiders argue is being used to develop nuclear weapons.
Trade is also a major issue between the EU and United States, with about $1.8 billion in trade per day or $1 trillion worth of trade crossing the Atlantic Ocean annually. That accounts for about 20 percent of each party's total trade.
Brasso said that economic cooperation will go even further, particularly in terms of regulatory rules.
"We will act together decisively to enhance our economic integration, namely in the field of regulatory environment. We believe a regulatory environment ... is good for the economy of our states," he said, adding that the G8 conference being held in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month will be a forum for other issues, including climate change, new environmental technologies, energy efficiency, energy security and economic development and health in Africa.
"We are together promoting democracy and freedom, but every day 25,000 people die because they don't have enough to eat or they don't have clean water to drink. This is really a shame for our generation. And we cannot accept is as a kind of natural order of things. It's not natural," Barroso said.
But even as expressions of cooperation are made, the European Union's recent problems have left several to wonder the future influence of Europe's economic and united front. Last month, both France and the Netherlands voted to reject a draft European Union-wide constitution. The United Kingdom, Denmark and Portugal have all put on hold votes on whether to ratify the constitution, which was supposed to be done by November 2006.
Furthermore, last week Juncker presided over a failed summit of national officials to the European Union who could not agree on a budget for the next few years or on farm spending as part of an overall budget deal for the 2007-2013 period.