Gatt deal 'vital to US link with Europe': Secretary of State warns of dire economic consequences if talks fail

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THE United States and Europe need a Gatt deal to keep the transatlantic link strong, Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, told the Independent this week. His comments showed a continuing ambivalence in US thinking about the relationship between the two partners.

Mr Christopher was in Brussels for both a crucial Nato gathering and a meeting with his opposite numbers in the European Commission as trade talks entered their endgame. The message he brought with him was that under Bill Clinton, economic and foreign policy are intertwined. If Europe pushes too hard for concessions and the Gatt talks collapse, there will be severe damage to US-EU relations.

'If Gatt were to fail I think it would have a very adverse effect on relations between the United States and Europe,' he said in an interview with selected European newspapers. 'I dare say it might even raise some difficult questions within the alliance itself.'

A draft trade deal should be ready by Monday. If this last effort, the conclusion of seven years' work, fails, the consequences would be dire, Mr Christopher said. 'I think it would very likely provoke a rash of unilateral actions of an economic character.'

Both South America and Asia would also figure larger in US calculations, he said. 'Inevitably, the United States would look increasingly to other markets which might be open - markets, for example, in South America . . . and in Asia, where there are such great opportunities.'

At the same time, Mr Christopher tried to ease perceptions that the US military presence in Europe would be affected. 'I would not want . . . to suggest that it would affect United States troops in Europe because I would hope that we would address that in security terms,' he said. And he added: 'Our forces are here because we think that contributes to US security as well as the security of Europe.'

His comments emphasised the delicate task he has to fulfil: to keep Europe on its toes, but also to repair damage done by earlier US lapses. 'I'm going to be very careful not to threaten,' he said. 'What I'm trying to do is to describe what I think is a series of facts.'

He was full of praise for the new EU, and the Maastricht treaty, the first time a senior administration official has expressed these sentiments publicly. 'The United States is strongly in favour of European integration,' he said. 'We congratulate Europe on the fact that they have moved from a community to a union.'

US-European links are, as the Secretary of State pointed out, at a pivotal position. The Nato meeting saw a further shift towards strengthening the European element of the alliance, which might help to bring France back nearer to its integrated military structure. The Gatt talks have also seen US moves that have brought France closer to accepting a trade pact. Any ill-thought moves now could jeopardise both organisations.

Transatlantic relations have suffered a series of blows this year, notably with disagreements over former Yugoslavia. Recent suggestions that Europe might lift sanctions against Serbia in exchange for territorial concessions have not gone down well in Washington. But Mr Christopher said he could not exclude it 'if there is conduct by the Serbs that might justify it'.

Bill Clinton visits Europe three times next year, including a trip to Brussels for the Nato summit in January. 'President Clinton's leadership in both calling for a summit and putting before the Nato members the proposals that he has, I think is a reflection of the deep commitment that we have to the transatlantic relationship and a way of underscoring his personal commitment to the future of Europe,' said Mr Christopher.

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