Clinton-Delors meeting may ease tension

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BRUSSELS - Jacques Delors is to meet President Clinton in Washington on Thursday, the European Commission confirmed yesterday, writes Andrew Marshall. The announcement raised hopes that there could be a political gesture to cool tensions between Washington and Brussels and perhaps improve the international economic mood.

Mr Delors, President of the European Commission, was due to be in Washington anyway for a conference, and the meeting had been set up before the present dispute flared at the weekend. The meeting was to have been announced later this week, but Jim Bolger, the New Zealand Prime Minister, jumped the gun yesterday when he referred to it.

The timing of the meeting may explain why Washington has been so tough over EC-US issues in the past few days. It is possible, one source said yesterday, that US officials have been trying to build up their position ahead of Mr Delors' arrival. At the weekend Mickey Kantor, Mr Clinton's Trade Representative, cancelled talks in Brussels at short notice, reportedly to the dismay of his officials.

The US has been demanding the removal of an article from an EC directive affecting public procurement, claiming that it hampers access for American telecommunications, electricity generation and supply firms to the European market. The EC claims that the US similiarly restricts market access, and has asked for a broader deal including US concessions.

Sir Leon Brittan, the EC's External Trade Commissioner, returned to Brussels last night from a trip to Eastern Europe. An official of the EC said last night that 'things could look very different' by today, after Sir Leon met his officials and discussed the problem.