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Bush to seek EU support on climate change deal

The President George W Bush will ask the European Union to make a global deal on climate change dependent on the inclusion of rapidly developing nations such as India and China when he meets top EU officials in Slovenia, a US diplomat said Monday...

'We do hope that there can be progress on getting the advanced emerging economies to commit to reductions (of CO2 levels) - not at the same level of Europe or the United States, but some,' said C Boyden Gray, the US envoy to the European bloc, ahead of Tuesday's EU-US summit.

The president was also likely to point out that genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) can boost crop production and help bring down food prices, the diplomat said.

'There will be a general discussion about the need to deal with the food price issue, and my guess is that it would include the need to move to newer technologies,' he said.

Both points were likely to provoke much head-shaking on the European side.

The EU's 27 member states have already committed to cutting their emissions of greenhouse gas by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and do not want to wait for other countries to follow suit.

GMOs, meanwhile, are viewed with deep suspicion among most European citizens, who frequently refer to them as 'Frankenstein food.'

The meeting at Brdo Castle marks a high point for Slovenia, whose stint as president of the European Union ends on June 30.

It is meant to highlight the renewed friendship between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than draw attention to their differences.

But while expecting no major decision to be agreed at the luxury resort, diplomats were predicting tough talks on these and other key issues. These include Europe's unwillingness to commit more troops to NATO-led security operations in Afghanistan, and the ambivalent attitude of some of its governments towards Iran.

Ahead of his arrival in Slovenia, Bush also signalled that he planned to reassure Europeans about the US economy and the dollar, which has tumbled to record lows against the euro this year. As he spoke, the euro reached a six-week high of 1.5845 dollars.

'I'll talk about our nation's commitment to a strong dollar,' he said. 'A strong dollar is in our nation's interests. It is in the interests of the global economy.'

A number of European governments have fretted about the weakness of the dollar, fearing that it will hurt their exports.

Visa-free travel to the US has also become a source of friction with the EU this year after Washington sidestepped Brussels and made bilateral deals with a number of EU members in eastern Europe.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner in charge of handling the bloc's external relations, said she would be 'listening eagerly for confirmation that several further EU member states are to be brought into the US visa waiver programme this year.'

'It is only right that citizens of all the US's EU allies be given the opportunity to travel visa-free across the Atlantic,' she said.

Currently, only citizens from old EU member states - except Greece - can enter the US without a visa.

Talks on how to respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions were taking place ahead of a planned visit to Tehran this week by the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

And Russia's growing assertiveness in Eastern Europe was up for discussion when assessing the European prospects of the Caucasus and of the Western Balkans.

Bush was due to arrive in the Slovenian capital at around 9 pm (1900 GMT). Contrary to initial reports, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not due to attend the talks.

Tuesday's summit was to be preceded by meetings between Bush and Slovenia's president and prime minister.

The US president was then due to travel to Germany, Italy, France and Britain on his final European tour before leaving the White House in January.

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