- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

BRUSSELS — President Bush does not share Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s enthusiasm for dividing Europe up into “old” and “new” blocs, a top U.S. official said yesterday.

Grant Aldonas, the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for International Trade, said Mr. Rumsfeld was “missing the point” by attempting to divide the continent into “old” European states such as France and Germany and compare them with “new” countries like Poland the Czech Republic — members of the former Soviet bloc that backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“Frankly, that is not the way I look at the world and it is certainly not the way the president looks at the world,” Mr. Aldonas said at a conference in Brussels. “There is no ‘new’ Europe or ‘old’ Europe; there is just Europe.”

Mr. Rumsfeld angered many Europeans in January when he described Paris and Berlin, the leaders of Europe’s antiwar camp, as “problems.”

“You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe,” he told reporters in Washington.

Mr. Aldonas yesterday became the first senior administration official to publicly distance himself, and the president, from those comments.

“I don’t think anybody should read too much into the remarks made by the defense secretary,” Mr. Aldonas said in an interview.

Describing the eastern expansion of the European Union as a “very positive trend,” the former lawyer said: “The idea that there’s a division of interests between those countries and the countries that form the heart of Europe is missing the point of the dynamics that are unfolding in Europe right now.”

Speaking at a conference on global trade organized by the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund, Mr. Aldonas also appeared to back French President Jacques Chirac’s belief in the benefits of a beefed-up European Union.

“If you have a stronger Europe, it does provide a balance in the international economic and political system,” Mr. Aldonas said in the interview.

“There are lessons a lot of the rest of the world can learn in terms of what Europe is doing and what has been done over the past 50 years. It’s an extraordinary thing … and it does not help to say there are different distinctions there.”

Next month, European leaders hope to agree to a constitution that would scrap member states’ right to veto laws in all but a handful of sensitive areas and create the powerful new posts of EU president and foreign minister.

And in May, 10 mostly former communist states are expected to join the European Union, giving birth to a 25-member superpower with 450 million people and an economy to rival that of the United States.

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