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European, Asian leaders meet to discuss trade, climate

BRUSSELS (AP) — European and Asian leaders gathered Friday to pledge their support for free trade, at a meeting that underscored trade tensions with U.S. President Donald Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels would send a signal that "countries are coming together here from Europe and Asia that all want rules-based global trade and are committed to multilateralism."

The meeting brings together 30 European leaders with their counterparts from 21 Asian nations as well as top officials from the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Together, the group accounts for some two-thirds of the world's economic output, 55 percent of global trade and 60 percent of the world's population.

In a draft of the meeting's closing statement seen by The Associated Press, the leaders say they "highlighted the vital need of maintaining an open world economy and upholding the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its core."

Trump slapped 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on imported aluminum from the EU on June 1. He said the move was to protect U.S. national security interests, but the Europeans claim it is simply protectionism and breaks global trade rules. The EU hit back with tariffs on about 2.8 billion euros-worth ($3.4 billion) of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products.

The stakes are even higher in Trump's trade war with China. Trump has imposed tariffs on about $250 billion of Chinese products amid U.S. accusations that China engages in cyber-theft and coerces foreign companies into handing over technology in return for access to the Chinese market, as well as by Trump's anger over China's trade surplus with the U.S.

The wide-ranging agenda of the Brussels meeting also included discussions on climate change, with leaders in the draft conclusions "expressing their profound concern that current global efforts are insufficient" to meet goals set out in the Paris climate accord. Trump has removed the U.S. from that deal.

In another draft conclusion that ran counter to U.S. policy, European and Asian leaders praised the Iran nuclear deal — another multilateral initiative rejected by Trump. "Preserving the nuclear deal with Iran is a matter of respecting international agreements, and promoting international security, peace and stability," the draft conclusions said.

One region where the leaders in Brussels were more closely aligned with Trump was the Korean peninsula, where the U.S. president has been involved with efforts to end North Korea's nuclear program. The draft declaration hailed efforts by South Korea and "other partners" to "achieve lasting peace and stability on a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Rights groups and lawmakers had called on the European leaders to push their Asian counterparts on human rights, citing abuses in many Asian nations, including the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar's military is accused of widespread rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and burning villages, which has seen about 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh since August last year.

Without mentioning Rohingya by name, the leaders underscored the need to pave the way for the "safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return of displaced persons to Rakhine State."

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