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February 6, 2005 4:11 pm

The Week in Brussels

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Condoleezza Rice, the new US secretary of state, is touring European and Middle-Eastern capitals this week, and Brussels policymakers will be following her pronouncements closely to get the latest reading of the transatlantic fever-chart.

After stop-overs in London, Warsaw, Berlin, Ankara and Jerusalem, Ms Rice heads to Rome on Monday and to Paris on Tuesday. There, she will give an eagerly-awaited speech on the state of transatlantic relations. Her decision to speak in the French capital of all places is already seen as a sign that the US is keen to overcome the acrimony over Iraq.

However, tensions remain. In all her meetings, Ms Rice is likely to underline the Bush administration’s concerns over Europe’s apparent readiness to lift its arms embargo against China. Washington fears that any such move could upset the military balance in the Far East and pose a threat to US allies such as Taiwan. But Europeans argue that arms exports will still be subject to strict conditions, and that the embargo has outlived its value as a visible punishment for brutal suppression of the Tiananmen square protests in 1989.

On Wednesday, she is due to meet José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner in charge of external relations. The next day, Ms Rice travels to Luxembourg to meet prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Nato, meanwhile, is staging a two-day informal meeting in Nice, France, on Wednesday and Thursday. Defence ministers, including Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, will meet to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Chinese arms embargo could also be a topic.

Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, is in Washington this week, to meet a string of high-level US trade officials and key lawmakers. On the list are Bob Zoellick, the US trade representative, John Snow, the treasury secretary, and Carlos Gutierrez, the commerce secretary. Mr Mandelson will also meet Senators Charles Grassley and Max Baucus and Representatives Bill Thomas and Charles Rangel, among others on Capitol Hill.

EU-US trade relations have taken a turn for the better in recent months, after the two sides managed to defuse - for the time being - the dispute over subsidies to commercial aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus. Rather than take the disagreement to the World Trade Organisation, Washington and Brussels have decided to try solving the issue through further negotiations.

Multilateral trade negotiations in the context of the WTO’s Doha round are also likely to feature high on Mr Mandelson’s agenda. After narrowly avoiding complete breakdown last year, the talks are likely to restart in earnest in the coming months. The US and the EU will have to co-operate closely for the round to succeed in its goals - boosting development and tearing down remaining barriers to world trade.

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