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EU: Powell, Brussels Foreign Ministers Exchange Familiar Views

The meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the 25 foreign ministers of present and future European Union countries in Brussels yesterday was an occasion for little else than the airing of already familiar positions. Powell conveyed well-known U.S. concerns regarding EU defense cooperation. Iran, meanwhile, emerged as another possible sticking point, although there were suggestions that the U.S. will not press the issue too hard in the near future.

Brussels, 19 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell did what he was expected to do at yesterday's working lunch in Brussels with the 25 EU foreign ministers and indicated Washington is keen to learn the answers to a number of pressing concerns.

Equally predictably, the EU stuck to the pre-announced idea of the meeting being an "unscripted exchange of views on trans-Atlantic relations" and did not give Powell clear answers.

EU sources say Powell offered up a number of questions the U.S. wants answered. What does the EU mean when its draft constitution allows for "structured defense cooperation?" What aims would a possible operative planning headquarters serve? How could either affect cooperation within NATO, and by extension, with the United States?

One diplomat said that although no structured debate took place on any of the issues, most of the EU response appeared broadly sympathetic. France and Germany, however, did not relinquish their aspiration for some form of defense "autonomy" for the EU. But no one questioned the need for a workable trans-Atlantic relationship.

Powell chose to take heart from this. He told journalists he believes NATO will remain united and that EU defense upgrades are also welcome.

"The United States wants a unified Europe, an expanded Europe, a Europe that plays a full role on the world stage. [U.S.-Europe] security is bound together in NATO, even as the European Union expands its capabilities," Powell said, "and we support all the initiatives that are under way to expand the capabilities of the European Union in the security field."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said it was agreed that the EU and the U.S. will in future establish new "mechanisms" to "openly and frankly" discuss global issues. An EU official said the debate on such mechanisms has been ongoing for months but has yielded no concrete results.

Iran's nuclear program appeared to be the most controversial point on the EU-Powell agenda.

Powell said that although Iran appears to be "moving in the right direction," Washington will not be satisfied "until Iran has demonstrated that all of the programs that it had been pursuing have now been made known to the international community and they are now being brought to a halt."

Therefore, Powell indicated, the U.S. is still committed to seeking a strong resolution of noncompliance on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at its board meeting tomorrow.

"We'll be in discussion with our European Union colleagues and other members of the IAEA as to whether or not the [IAEA draft] resolution [regarding Iran's nuclear program] is strong enough to convey to the world the difficulties we've had with Iran over the years," Powell said. "And the fact of the matter is that Iran has been in noncompliance [with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]."

The EU said little to suggest it would go along with Powell's wishes. Instead, the EU's security policy chief, Javier Solana, said that while the bloc agrees Iran must not "go nuclear," the best way to avert that risk is through dialogue.

"We are trying to construct with Iran, through a good constructive dialogue, a prevention from going into the [uranium] enrichment process," Solana said. "We want to stop the enrichment process, and we want to stop all the elements that can go into the risk of going into the development of nuclear capabilities for non-peaceful means."

Sources say Powell indicated the U.S. would prefer no resolution to a weakly worded one.

On other international issues, EU diplomats say there was little to differentiate the two sides.

Powell told the ministers that the U.S. wants to have a "fundamental law" in place in Iraq by February that would allow for the eventual creation of a provisional government by the end of June.

On the Middle East, Powell said the United States remains committed to the "road map." Echoing EU positions, he said Israel's security fence is a "problem," together with illegal Israeli settlements. Powell is also said to have noted that neither can directly be associated with the problem of terrorism.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Powell said, the U.S. supports an EU takeover from NATO but that it remains a "question of timing."

Powell also voiced concerns about Russia. An EU diplomat told RFE/RL that Powell's remarks had followed the general thrust of the EU foreign ministers' discussion on 17 November, when it was suggested the bloc must clarify its approach and hold Russia to its international commitments.

More specifically, Powell mentioned Moscow's foot-dragging in honoring its 1999 commitment to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to remove its troops and materiel from Moldova.