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EU: Powell Meets Today With Senior Delegation

A delegation from the European Union is in Washington for semi-annual meetings with U.S. officials. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to assure the EU diplomats that they have no need for concern about America's policies because the U.S. has a new president. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 6 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meets in Washington today with a high-ranking delegation from the European Union (EU). They are expected to discuss the Balkans, the Middle East peace process, a European defense force, and U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system.

The delegation is led by Foreign Minister Anna Lindh of Sweden, which now holds the EU's rotating presidency. Also in Washington are Javier Solana, secretary-general of the EU Council who directs foreign policy, as well as European Commissioner Christopher Patten. They are in the U.S. for the semi-annual U.S.-EU meeting of foreign ministers.

A U.S. administration official -- who did not wish to be identified -- said the meeting is expected to further allay Europeans' concerns about the positions of the new American president, George W. Bush. Last week, Powell began reassuring European allies during a visit to Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

First, Bush indicated during his campaign for president that he might withdraw the U.S. contribution to the NATO peacekeeping force. But last week Powell made it clear that Washington would keep its forces in place.

Powell also has stated that the U.S. has no objection to Europe forming its own force for dealing with strictly European military issues independently of NATO. The secretary says the Bush administration does not see such a force as weakening the Atlantic alliance. In fact, he says, such a force could only strengthen NATO.

And Powell and the Europeans are expected to discuss weapons non-proliferation. A Bush administration official said this topic is likely to include U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system that would help protect Europe -- as well as America -- from any missile attacks by "rogue" nations, such as North Korea or Iran. Some of Washington's European allies have said a missile-defense could help revive the arms race of the Cold War.

Another possible subject is EU enlargement. Twelve countries are negotiating to become members of the organization.

Five Central and Eastern European nations seen as leading candidates for EU membership are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. The other five are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. Malta and Cyprus are also seeking membership.

EU nations are now debating reform of the organization's constitution. Lindh has urged the EU candidates to join in the debate at an informal meeting in Brussels of the group's foreign ministers in May. She has argued that it is appropriate for candidate nations to take part because they would have to follow the EU's rules if they are granted membership.