On a warm and windy spring day, the White House Rose Garden was looking its best, even if the tulips were shedding their petals. The three flags — of the United States, Germany and the European Union — snapped and fluttered behind the three leaders.
But this was more than the kind of pro forma ceremony to offer bland assurances that all was good will and progress, no matter what had taken place behind closed doors. President Bush, German Chancellor — and EU President — Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso repeatedly stressed agreements on “concrete” steps and measures at their summit.
The fine print will eventually tell how much actual progress was made, but the three reported significant agreement on trans-Atlantic economic integration, particularly the movement of capital; a renewed commitment to completing the Doha round of world trade talks; and on opening up air travel between the United States and the European Union.
And, to the evident satisfaction of the visitors, especially Merkel, the Bush administration is no longer stiffing the Europeans on climate change, agreeing to work with the European Union on possible solutions.
Even on Russia and Iran, there were no obvious disagreements. Whatever reservations some European nations might have about U.S. plans to put a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, they resent even more Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy-handed attempts to kill it.
The Europeans have long urged the Bush administration to talk with Iran, and the president indicated he was open to the idea — on an informal basis. Noting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian diplomats would be present at the same conference, Bush said, “Should the foreign minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won’t be rude. … I’m sure she’ll be polite.”
Merkel said the summit made such substantial progress in such a short time only “because the American administration — but in particular you, Mr. President, were … full-square behind this project.” This is not what Bush has been used to hearing from European leaders during most of his term.
Both Barroso and Merkel referred to the president as “George.” Finally, it seems that the White House’s frayed relations with Europe are on the mend.