US envoy annoys Europe again

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor

The skirmish - it is hardly a war - of words between the US envoy Richard Holbrooke and assorted European governments continued yesterday when Mr Holbrooke asserted that only American intervention had brought peace to the former Yugoslavia.

An embarrassed State Department in Washington has pointedly declined to endorse Mr Holbrooke's recent critical comments about Europe's performance in hours of crisis. But quiet satisfaction in the Foreign Office over this bureaucratic solidarity has been offset by the patent truth of some of the envoy's plain speaking.

Denying that he was "patronising" Europeans, Mr Holbrooke insisted that the institutions of Europe were not yet fit for the task of international order. He said it was only "when the United States ... engaged in complete concert with Britain and France that we finally began to move forward". He added that the collapse of Yugoslavia signalled "the greatest collective failure of the West since the 1930s".

Mr Holbrooke, who was due to dine with Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, in London last night, earlier accused the Europeans of "sleeping" through the recent crisis in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey. Mr Rifkind, annoyed, authorised a statement calling Mr Holbrooke's words on that subject "nonsense". The Turkish foreign minister, visiting London yesterday, said he was happy to confirm that Mr Rifkind had been wide awake.

European officials are seething at what they see as a consistent US effort to bolster the image of the Nato-led force in Bosnia while denigrating the efforts of the European-led administrations. Tensions between the Europeans and Mr Holbrooke also continue to undermine implementation of the Dayton accords, leading to concern that warring factions could once again exploit divisions in the international community.