Hurd stands by EC record on Bosnia: As the US prepares to go it alone on aid, Nato foreign ministers find there are gaps emerging in the transatlantic alliance

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DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday attacked American criticism of European inactivity in the Balkans as ill-informed, and emphasised that US air-drops of supplies were a 'supplement' to EC efforts.

The transatlantic link remains as strong as ever, yesterday's meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels emphasised. But the meeting showed that important gaps are opening up in the US-EC relationship, and that the link itself is having to be adapted to cope with the emergence of Russia as a partner, not an enemy.

US air-drops of aid to Bosnia are set to commence without European involvement. But Mr Hurd showed some irritation at complaints from the US that Europe had been slow to get involved in the former Yugoslavia.

'A European effort with the UN has kept alive many thousands of Bosnians . . . and we have escorted, we Europeans, we British, large numbers of convoys,' he said. 'We see the American and European efforts as supplementary to each other.'

Mr Hurd said talks with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, on the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, had gone well, while admitting the US and Europe had not seen eye to eye in the past.

However, France, which explicitly said it would not participate in the US operation, said it wanted a special UN co-ordinator responsible for the implementation of any future peace plan, and that he or she should be a European.

The unity of the discussions was also disrupted by the limited European response to US plans to air-drop supplies to Bosnia. Alone of the Nato allies, Turkey offered planes, though Germany said it would consider using German aircraft to handle other missions previously flown by the Americans.

'I am not disappointed,' Mr Christopher insisted. But he added later: 'US participation comes with the expectation that Europe, which is most directly affected, will play a leading role and redouble its concerted efforts.'

Both Russia and the US are expected to commit forces for a peace-keeping operation in the former Yugoslavia, though Mr Christopher did not give any details. The Russian contribution is unclear as yet.

Mr Hurd said he would not be discussing any British contributions when he meets Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary- General, in New York next week.

Mr Christopher repeated the line that Washington's role in Europe remains unchanged. 'America's commitment to European security is undiminished and unwavering,' he told the foreign ministers. However, he also warned that economic security topped his list of priorities, and said the US had had to make some 'tough choices' over trade policy, adding: 'We believe it is now time for our friends and allies to make similiarly tough choices.'

He would not comment on US troop levels in Europe, saying only that Washington would keep 'enough' forces there, fuelling suspicions that the Clinton administration may make further cuts.

The US and the EC are locked into a bewildering variety of trade rows, discussions and formal negotiations. Mickey Kantor, the US Trade Representative, is set to come to Brussels soon for talks on a US-EC agreement on aircraft subsidies, which risks re-igniting the whole subject. Talks are also going on over access to public procurement markets, and the US- EC deal on farm trade is still in the balance.

Hanging over both trade superpowers is the still uncompleted Gatt accord. Mr Christopher did not meet officials from the European Commission yesterday, to their chagrin. The EC is very keen to arrange a high level meeting between Community representatives and President Bill Clinton as soon as possible, and the Danish EC presidency is considering inviting Mr Clinton to Copenhagen, Danish officials said yesterday.

(Photograph omitted)