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Bush fails to convert EU leaders

By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (CNN) -- Texan charm only goes so far on the opposite side of the Atlantic. U.S. President George W. Bush may be making a few friends in Europe but there is no sign he is making many converts.

Goran Persson, the Swedish Prime Minister and host to the EU-U.S. summit in Gothenburg, did not bother to sugar the pill when he and Bush met reporters after the summit talks.

On the environment and Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on greenhouse gas emissions he acknowledged that they had “agreed to differ.”

Basically Europe has agreed to go ahead and ratify Kyoto while the U.S. does its own thing. EU leaders have scorned Bush’s peace offering of further investment in climate change research and new technology to cut carbon dioxide emissions. They want action, not more words.

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But the irritation felt by the EU leaders was plain when the equable Persson declared: “Whether you are for or against the Kyoto Protocol, you have to take action.”

The two sides will keep talking on environmental issues through “personal representatives.” But that is essentially just a face-saver.

Bush was prepared to moderate his rhetoric in Europe and he agreed that climate change was a serious issue. But he is still insisting that he regards the Kyoto treaty as against America’s economic interests and flawed in that it does not apply to developing nations.

That did not impress the EU leaders any more than it did the demonstrators drawn to Gothenburg to protest against a U.S. president they see as a symbol of big business politics.

Bush has pleased the Europeans with his reassurances on keeping U.S. troops in the Balkans, which he insists on referring to as “southeast Europe”.

But they have been disappointed that he is not offering any leadership over the deteriorating situation in Macedonia, where the fragile government of national unity is struggling to contain ethnic Albanian rebels.

On defence Bush claims after his welcome in Spain and his meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels that there is a “new receptivity” to his plans for a new missile shield to protect the U.S. against rogue states who may acquire the capacity to attack the US..

But while some, like UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, have welcomed Bush’s increased readiness to consult about his plans, no European leader has yet signed up to them.

The Europeans, led on this issue by President Jacques Chirac of France, who sees it as an invitation to a new round of nuclear proliferation, remain opposed to Bush’s plan to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They see the treaty as essential to maintaining the nuclear balance.

Bush has reacted with some force to the charge that he is a unilateralist president, careless of the interests of other nations. He told the other leaders “unilateralists don’t come to the table to share opinions.”

But his assertions that on defence they need to embrace the thinking of a new age has not resonated with a group of experienced EU leaders yet to be convinced of the intellectual quality of the new incumbent in the White House.

With their future relations with Russia in mind, they are nervous too of Bush’s expressed eagerness for the eastward expansion of NATO.

On his first trip to Europe since coming to the White House, Bush is accentuating the positive and insisting they have shared objectives. But his body language is not comfortable and his press conference, European journalists felt, lacked evidence of “the vision thing.”

It was perhaps a measure of the gulf which remains between Bush and his European hosts that he sounded his most enthusiastic when celebrating the agreement reached between the U.S. and the EU on banana imports.

That was a welcome resolution of a long-drawn out dispute. But it was hardly the stuff of great cross-Continental alliances.

• EU Gothenburg Summit

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