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World News

Bush farewell trip to paper over cracks with Europe

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush begins a farewell tour of Europe on Monday when he arrives in Slovenia for an U.S.-EU summit which is expected to gloss over disputed issues such as climate change.

U.S. President George W. Bush waves to the media as he prepares to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington June 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

In a sign of waning ambitions before Bush leaves office, a row over chicken carcasses is likely to vex transatlantic advisers at the summit as much as higher profile issues.

The summit is the starting point for a visit which will also take Bush to Germany, Italy, France and Britain - partners with whom he has had mixed relations over the past eight years.

European Union officials say differences with Bush’s administration over greenhouse gas emissions are too big to bother trying to broach yet again when leaders meet at the summit on Tuesday, just months before Bush stands down.

On other issues such as the Middle East, differences have been less acute since Bush began his second term, beset by problems in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, and he has focused more on cooperating with European allies.

In the absence of geopolitics, a decade-old trade row over how to wash poultry meat has risen up the summit agenda.

The United States has expressed increasing frustration with the EU’s ban on imports of U.S. poultry, introduced in 1997 over American producers’ use of a low-concentration chlorine wash on chickens, a practice that is not permitted in Europe.

The ban affects U.S. exports worth at most $300 million a year, a small fraction of the world’s biggest trade relationship. But U.S. officials have taken it as the test of a new body designed to smooth a broad range of transatlantic business.

“Despite the frustrations on the poultry issue which will be vented at the summit, both sides agree that the Transatlantic Economic Council is far more important than just the poultry issue,” an EU official told reporters.

The European Commission has proposed ending the ban, albeit with strict conditions. But that plan was blocked last week by national-level veterinary experts, dashing hopes in Brussels for progress towards settling the dispute before the summit.

NO CHANGE ON CLIMATE

Brussels and Washington will talk about climate change on Tuesday but they remain at odds over how to tackle the problem.

“The Bush administration is not on the same wavelength as the EU about the seriousness of the climate change problem and what to do about it,” the EU official said.

The EU is looking more for signs of what the next president intends to do on emissions. But Europeans hoping that either Barack Obama or John McCain will take a sharply new approach are likely to be disappointed, a senior U.S. official said.

“I don’t think they will find the next administration to be very different on the fundamental disagreement ... the central question of whether China and other advanced developing countries need to make a commitment of some level.”

On Iran, Bush will be seeking assurances from the EU that it will rigorously implement a set of sanctions approved by the United Nations in April, the U.S. official said.

The EU hoped to persuade Washington to take a less sceptical view of Syria’s potential role in the Middle East peace process, the EU official said.

The EU side will also renew calls on the United States to move more quickly to relax visa requirements from citizens of all EU countries, a headache for many new EU member states in eastern and central Europe.

Additional reporting by Manca Ulcar

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