(AP) - North Korea's apparent preparations for its first long-range missile test-firing in eight years could be the wild card at this year's U.S.- European Union summit.
President Bush is conferring with EU leaders in more than four hours of talks Wednesday in this heavily policed capital of Austria, which holds the 25-nation EU's rotating presidency, reports Trend.
The agenda for the annual meeting centers around reducing the West's addiction to imported oil and gas, fighting terror, protecting intellectual property rights and discussing an EU plan to channel critically needed cash to the Palestinians.
Bush planned to press his European counterparts to follow his lead and promise to eliminate government support for farmers, a sticking point in difficult talks for a global free-trade pact.
"If they can move in that direction, we're going to be in the zone of getting an agreement by the end of the year," Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, told reporters traveling with the president to Austria on Air Force One.
Bush also is urging European nations to make good on their pledges of financial assistance for Iraq's reconstruction. Hadley would not name the countries that have not yet delivered, but he said the president believes that coming up with the money now is crucial to the success of the fledgling leadership in Baghdad. The administration says only $3 billion of $13 billion promised has gone to Baghdad.
The president's European stay could be complicated by a faraway fear.
There are indications that North Korea could at any moment test-fire a long-range ballistic missile thought to be powerful enough to reach the West Coast of the United States. "They seem to moving forward toward a launch, but the intelligence is not conclusive at this point," Hadley said.
Without offering specifics, Washington has been threatening consequences if Pyongyang goes ahead with the launch, which would be its first since test-firing an earlier version over northern Japan in 1998. Bush's aides declined again Tuesday to tip their hand, even as the administration labored to rally other countries to threaten North Korea with further isolation.
North Korea said Wednesday that it wants direct talks with the United States, which has insisted it will only speak to the North at six-nation nuclear talks. The North has refused to return to those talks since November.
"A lot of these countries are going to have ideas about what we do, should North Korea ignore the advice of the international community and go forward," Hadley said.
Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions also were sure to come up. Bush's advisers played it down as a major topic of discussion.
Earlier this month, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia offered Iran incentives to impose a long-term moratorium on uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material for nuclear generators or bombs. With the Bush administration insisting Tehran has "weeks, not months" to make a decision, Iran has so far neither rejected nor accepted the proposal.
That leaves the showdown in a holding pattern with little to discuss as Bush meets with EU leaders who aren't the major players in the issue.
"The framework we're operating under is already fixed," Hadley said.
Mostly, Iran is a source of some goodwill for Bush on a continent where anti-Americanism is widespread and dislike of his foreign policy is strong, primarily stemming from his 2003 decision to invade Iraq.
The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib, allegations of a massacre of unarmed civilians by U.S. Marines at Haditha and reports of secret prisons for terror suspects have only added to European concerns about Washington. Bush will be greeted by mounting calls for closing the U.S. detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where three prisoners committed suicide this month.
But Bush's second-term shift in strategy on Iran agreeing to join direct talks if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment and teaming up to craft the incentives package has won him accolades for working closely with other nations.
Still, police were bracing for possibly large anti-Bush protests during the visit, which has the president in a series of meetings with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and EU dignitaries including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.