US president and EU leaders meet at informal summit in Prague

Barack Obama, photo: CTK

EU leaders met with US President Barack Obama at an informal summit of the European Union and the United States in Prague on Sunday. The meeting, organized by the Czech EU presidency on the second day of President Obama’s visit to the Czech capital, followed up on issues discussed earlier this week at the G20 in London and the NATO summit in Strasbourg.

Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
Although an informal meeting, the Prague EU-US summit was the first opportunity both for President Obama and many leaders of EU member states to discuss future strategies in areas of common interest. One unexpected issue came on Sunday – a launch of a North Korean ballistic missile – which resulted in a joint declaration by the EU and the United States condemning the act as a provocation.

“We had a frank and wide-ranging meeting around a host of issues. I am very pleased with the joint statement with respect to the North Korean launch; I think that it’s indicative of the fact that when Europe and the United States act in concert, we can make a difference not just on local issues but also on international issues.”

Prague was the third stop on President Obama’s European tour, and most of the problems discussed in the Czech capital were already tackled at the G20 meeting in London and at the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl. Much of the debate at the EU-US summit centred on the global economic downturn, and on stepping up allied forces in Afghanistan. Mr Obama said the EU must do more.

Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
“The United States will do its part, and so will NATO, and the United Nations, and we are going to be sending additional civilian experts. The European Union can and must also do more. None of this will be easy and many of our citizens are war-wary, particularly at a time when we have so many needs at home. But we have to provide a clear and unequivocal answer to their questions. We have not chosen to fight in Afghanistan; the terrorists who attacked London, or New York, or Madrid, were tied to those operating out of safe havens in these regions.”

The EU had already agreed to increase number of police and civilian experts in Afghanistan to help train local security forces so that allied troops can eventually retreat. A similar degree of consensus between the United States and the European Union has come of the debate on their relations to Russia. Mr Obama said that despite difference, the EU should follow the example of the United States, and engage in a new era of relations with Moscow.

Photo: CTK
“The US and EU must engage in a direct, honest, frank dialogue with Russia to build on common interests, and also be frank where we disagree. The United States will maintain our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will not recognize the break-away territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or any spheres of influence. Meanwhile, I applaud the EU’s decision to move more closely to engage your neighbours in an Eastern partnership. These countries will benefit immensely from the expertise and guidance that the EU can provide as they work towards integration with Europe.”

Perhaps more significantly, no common position of the EU has yet been reached on another issue the American president mentioned – the future of the persons detained at the US base at Guantanamo Bay.

“I appreciate the outpouring of support from Europe for my decision to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. I am committed to closing Guantanamo by January 22, 2010. Meeting that goal will be made much easier as EU members states work with my team to accept some transferred detainees. That’s why it’s so urgent the European Council issue a common position supporting the right of your member states to accept detainees, if they so choose.”

Mirek Topolánek and Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said that for the time being, the Czech position remains “reserved” to the idea of taking on some of the detainees. But much more controversy surfaced when Barack Obama remarked on EU’s relations with its Muslim neighbours, and particularly, Turkey.

“At home, we must stand for opportunity, diversity and tolerance for as our countries know too well discrimination and hatred are sources of national weakness and shame. And abroad, the United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbours and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence forging a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest. Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we can continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe.”

Mr Obama’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union led to a clash with the French head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the strongest opponents of Turkey’s accession to the bloc. Mr Sarkozy said that when it came to the European Union, it was to EU member states of the European Union to decide. The head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso said that EU’s position on Turkey had not changed.

Barack Obama and Václav Havel,  photo: CTK
“The position of the European Commission has always been very clear: we have started a process of negotiations with Turkey for membership in the EU. And that was a unanimous decision of the EU. So all the 27 member states agreed to discuss the accession of Turkey, and we are indeed in this negotiation process.”

But despite these differences, the EU-US summit confirmed that Barack Obama’s election as the president of the United States has launched a new era in the trans-Atlantic relations, with the US administration pledging to join in a common strategy in fighting global climate change, an issue often overlooked in the past. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek.

“I think the concrete result of our Prague summit is a joint statement of the European Union and the United States about today’s North Korean missile launch, and I think this will be a landmark of the summit. I would like to thank especially to Barack Obama for taking part in this event; we had an opportunity to hear about our common values, common views and common global strategies.”

The informal summit between the EU and the United States concluded in the Czech capital on Sunday. But before setting off for Turkey, which will wrap up Mr Obama’s first European tour, the American leader met briefly with former Czech president Václav Havel.