AFP, PARIS (AFP) Oct 27, 2003-A row between some EU countries and the United States over a European defence operation that would be separate from NATO has “evolved” and is now the subject of “healthy discussion,” a senior US official visiting France and Britain said Monday.
“These ideas are still being redefined,” Robert Bradtke, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists at the US embassy in Paris.
“We're having a good, healthy discussion,” he said.
Bradtke said he held talks Monday with strategic affairs advisors at France's foreign and defence ministries on the subject and was to go to London for similar discussions with British officials.
He repeated Washington's fears that an EU defence initiative would rob NATO of some military capability and “double up” existing military structures which he said had been effective in recent missions in Macedonia and Afghanistan.
The French officials he spoke to, however, maintained their position that the European Union, which is about to expand to 25 members, should have the ability to conduct its own military operations separate from NATO, whose top military commander is always an American.
US concerns were fanned recently when British Prime Minister Tony Blair made comments suggesting his country would move towards the idea of an EU defence structure put forward by a group led by France and Germany.
“I'm absolutely the strongest ally the US can have but I know there will be certain situations that, for perfectly good reasons, when the US doesn't want to undertake military operation,” Blair said last week.
“The EU in those circumstances has got to have the capability to do so.”
But Bradtke said the feeling in Washington was that EU countries and the United States “should stay closely coordinated” and he stressed that he saw nothing that presaged NATO crumbling apart.
Washington was keen on keeping NATO as the main defence alliance in Europe because “it was the shield behind which Europe rebuilt itself… it was the tool that allowed us to win the Cold War,” he said.
“We think it important that NATO not be weakened or damaged.”
Bradtke said no decisions had been made during his meetings, which he described as consultative.