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U.S.: EU Official Says Union Faces 'Hard Choices' In Terror Aftermath

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Among the members of the European Union, grief and horror at this week's terrorist attacks in the U.S. are giving way to considerations of the events' impact on trans-Atlantic relations and future foreign policy. Although EU leaders have declared their full support for possible retaliatory measures by the United States, they appear concerned about avoiding what officials in Brussels are calling prolonged "simple confrontation."

Brussels, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Although the European Union today promised the United States its full cooperation in finding and punishing the terrorists behind the 11 September attacks, officials in Brussels are admitting that, in the longer term, the EU will face "hard foreign policy choices."

An EU official -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- indicated that while the EU fully supports the inevitable retaliatory action by the United States, it does not intend to harden its stance toward Libya, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, or Pakistan -- all of which are suspected of either wittingly or unwittingly harboring terrorists.

The official said the EU is likely to support what he called "critical dialogue" over the much harsher approach favored by the United States. He said the EU is likely to persist in trying to "change realities by constructive engagement," and resist "betraying" current foreign policy priorities by yielding to the "revisionism" demanded by some. The official also said he believes the EU's links with Libya, Iran, and the Palestinian territories will be "very valuable" for the United States in the coming days.

The official's comments came shortly after EU leaders adopted a joint declaration this morning strongly condemning the attacks and promising the United States its full cooperation in bringing the surviving perpetrators to justice.

But the declaration also indicated that the EU will not acquiesce to the role of a silent, junior partner to the United States. The declaration says the EU is intent on keeping any anti-terrorist effort within established international frameworks. It makes specific reference to the United Nations, which the U.S. has not always viewed as a useful channel for international military action.

The declaration also says the EU expects to play a full role in the long-term global anti-terrorist effort and will work to ensure that efforts are just and democratic "at a global level." The declaration says the EU will continue to develop its Common Foreign and Security Policy "with a view to ensuring that the Union is capable of speaking out [with] one voice."

The anonymous EU official also seemed to suggest that the EU is making a distinction between the swift U.S. retaliation which -- in the official's words -- is "not too far away," and extensive, longer-term measures against international terrorism overall.

The official said EU support for swift U.S. action against "certain countries" suspected of harboring terrorists is "shorthand" to help prepare Western public opinion for what he said are inevitable retaliatory strikes. The official added, however, that this will not necessarily apply in future instances, in which very clear evidence would have to be presented before punishing countries suspected of harboring terrorists.

The official said EU leaders are happy the United States has not taken any "precipitous action," as British Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated to Parliament today:

"Rightly, President Bush and the United States government have proceeded with care. They did not lash out. They did not strike first and think afterwards. Their very deliberation is a measure of the seriousness of their intent."

The official says EU leaders also approve of statements made by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to the effect that the United States is not interested in "quick revenge" and is preparing for a long and hard campaign.

The official said the EU believes in the experience and "sufficient reason" of the present U.S. administration, which will help to avoid alienating the Arab world. He noted that Bush's foreign policy team is led by the same people -- notably Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney -- who persuaded a number of Arab countries to join the 1991 Gulf War coalition against Iraq.

The official said the EU views the terrorist acts as a "watershed event" not only in trans-Atlantic relations, but also in the Middle East and elsewhere. He said the EU hopes that all parties involved will take this opportunity to move toward reconciliation.

The official said the EU's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, will publish an "impassioned plea" to this effect in two British newspapers on 15 September. According to the official, Patten will say that the attack must not become a "self-fulfilling prophecy," with the West painting the whole of the Arab and Islamic world in the colors of the enemy. Patten will point out that fundamentalist Islam bears as little relation to the aims of Islam as the Inquisition did to the central values of Christianity.

Also, Patten will say, the West will need to decisively address the problem of extreme poverty in regions that act as hotbeds of Islamic radicalism. The fight against poverty, one of the root causes of much Islamic terrorism, must be as serious as that against terrorism itself, Patten will warn.

The unnamed EU official said that a high-level EU delegation will travel to Washington on 19 September to discuss greater coordination of anti-terrorist measures, intelligence sharing, and greater foreign policy coordination. The delegation, led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel representing the EU presidency, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Patten, will meet from Sept. 20-21 with Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and congressional leaders.

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