BRUSSELS — Top European Union officials sought to defuse transatlantic tensions Tuesday but remained firm in their warning that the U.S. would be making a mistake to go it alone in its campaign against terrorism.
In comments that reflect growing fears here of U.S. imperialism, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the fight against evil forces can succeed only if it combines the military might of the world's leading superpower with the nation-building skills of U.S. allies in Europe, particularly in the 19-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO has declared the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States an attack against the alliance.
"We have a coalition here," Solana told a forum on transatlantic affairs organized by the Washington-based German Marshall Fund. "NATO has to prevail."
European unease has risen dramatically since President Bush last month said that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an "axis of evil" that threatens other countries. Reports that the U.S. is contemplating a military strike against Iraq have stoked criticism among key European allies.
The president's speech triggered a volley of emotion across the Atlantic, with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine calling it simplistic and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell retorting that Vedrine was "getting the vapors."
Then Patten, a former chairman of Britain's Conservative Party and a strong ally of Washington, turned up the heat last week by declaring the apparent "unilateralist urge" in Washington "profoundly misguided." He said the U.S. and its allies should redouble efforts to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq, support reformists in Iran and urge increased dialogue with North Korea.
At the forum in the Belgian capital, both Patten and Solana expressed horror at the events of Sept. 11 and stressed their deep personal ties to the U.S. Europeans have suffered the deadly toll of terrorism for decades, they noted, and understand the fear it creates among a civilian populace caught in the cross-fire.
"I've had two friends killed by terrorists, and I've gone through a period of my life when every time I turned on the ignition of my car I slightly wondered what was going to happen," said Patten, referring to the death threats he received as a British Cabinet minister during the height of the sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
The diplomats insisted that the best way to undermine terrorism is to build a multilateral coalition that could wage war on the diplomatic and humanitarian fronts as well as the battlefield.
"I am not so naive as to think that if you drop 20 million EuroAid packages on Sudan or Somalia, or multiply that by 10 on Afghanistan, that terrorism is going to disappear tomorrow," Patten said. "But I do think there is a relationship between global inequity and state breakdown and violence and instability."