Rice says EU receptive over arms sales

MILITARY BALANCE: In remarks released by the US Department of State, the US' top diplomat said that Europe was listening to concerns about weapons sales to Beijing

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Sat, Feb 12, 2005 - Page 1

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has voiced US concern to European leaders about plans for the EU to lift the embargo on arms sales to China, and feels that the Europeans "are listening to our concerns."

Speaking near the end of her first trip to Europe since becoming the US' top diplomat, Rice told reporters that "we have been able to make our views very clear about the arms embargo," whose retention Washington has strongly supported.

A transcript of her remarks were made available in Washington by the State Department.

While not directly mentioning Taiwan or the situation in the Taiwan Strait, Rice said "we have made clear our concerns about the military balance," if Europe lifts the embargo, in view of the presence of US forces in East Asia.

Rice made her comments after meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner in Brussels on Wednesday.

She said she told the leaders that if the embargo is lifted, the US is concerned about "the transfer of technology that might endanger in some way that very delicate military balance."

"I do believe that the Europeans are listening to our concerns," she said in a joint news conference with the European leaders.

"We will continue to work with our European allies," she said, expressing the hope that the EU "understands [the concerns] fully and takes them fully into consideration in any decision that is made."

Barroso, responding to Rice, said he agrees that "none of us has any interest in substantially increasing the quantity or the quality of the weaponry in Southeast Asia."

He said Europe's effort to strengthen its Code of Conduct on global arms sales would "take account of this."

"We understand the United States' sensitivities in this regard," he said.

While the European Commission has tentatively decided to lift the embargo, which dates from the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, as early as this summer, observers have noted that at least half a dozen member states oppose the move, and the European parliament has voted to retain the embargo.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo a day before Rice spoke, the State Department's top arms control negotiator, John Bolton, strongly defended the embargo and Japan's concurrence with the US that the embargo should not be ended. Japan also bans arms sales to China.

"Our respective governments' positions on resolving the Taiwan-China cross-strait issue are well known," Bolton said in address to a symposium on arms control. "We are concerned that any measures that allow China to significantly improve its coercive capabilities could make fostering a peaceful resolution of this issue less likely."

"We concur with [Japanese] Foreign Minister [Nobutaka] Machimura that it will contribute to regional instability," he said.

Bolton, one of the Bush administration's most fervent supporters of Taiwan, also warned that if the EU lifts the embargo, it "could have a negative impact on US defense cooperation with EU members."

In this, he noted congressional actions in favor or retaining the embargo, including the US House of Representative's approval of a resolution by a 411-3 vote last week condemning the EU's plan to lift the embargo.

Both Rice and Bolton also stressed that China's human rights situation has not changed sufficiently since Tiananmen to warrant lifting the embargo. The embargo was imposed after Tiananmen to flag European distress over China's human rights violations.