- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

PARIS Leaders from the four European countries most hostile to the war in Iraq meet in Brussels today to rekindle plans for a European defense force to rival NATO and show America that "old Europe" is down but not out.
France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, dubbed "old Europe" by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld before the war began, invited other European Union countries to attend, but found no takers. Critics have dubbed the gathering the "praline summit."
Britain and many of the EU's other powers are too concerned with the aftermath of the Iraq conflict, the future of NATO and the damage wrought to Europe's trans-Atlantic relationship by the war to go chest-beating for a European army that has long been pushed by Paris.
The summit was called by the Belgians months ago when France and Germany still believed they could pressure Washington to delay the invasion of Iraq.
The summit's length and agenda have been pared down, but it still reflects an ambition to establish Europe as a diplomatic and military counterweight to the United States. That ambition has been fueled rather than sapped by the war.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who declined an invitation to attend, told the Reuters news agency that the gathering could be worthwhile if it gave fresh impetus to existing plans for European defense cooperation and spurred governments to spend more on defense budgets.
"If this meeting mobilizes the countries themselves to get better expenditure on defense, and that mobilizes others to do the same, that would be good news for the whole European Union," he said.
But he also said it was inconceivable to build a common European defense effort without Britain, the bloc's leading military power, at its core.
The four countries will lay the groundwork for a joint military command, a European armaments agency, which will prevent countries from duplicating their equipment and resources, and a European defense college.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the summit participants risk sending a message of division between NATO and the EU.
Critics say the summit validates Mr. Rumsfeld's jibe, bearing no relation to the realities of an expanding Europe in which several newly invited members in central and Eastern Europe put far more trust in NATO, which helped free them from the Soviet Union, than in an undefined Franco-German blueprint.
There are signs that Washington is seeking ways to narrow the trans-Atlantic breach caused by the war.
United Press International reported yesterday that the Bush administration has proposed forming a high-level contact group with the Europeans to discuss sensitive policy issues in advance to avoid conflicts such as happened over Iraq.
The proposal, floated so far with German and British diplomats, is part of a reconciliation process with Europe that will see Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visit German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on a trip to Berlin next month.
Paris and Washington are also discussing ways to involve NATO in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq, but the bilateral relationship still faces major hurdles.
France opposed U.S. plans to end United Nations economic sanctions imposed on Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and Mr. Powell has said France will suffer "consequences" for its active opposition to the war.

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