Rumsfeld says he's too old to regret 'Old Europe' comment

Saturday, February 7, 2004

MUNICH, Germany -- Declaring himself "too old to have regrets," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday he wasn't sorry he called France and Germany "old Europe" -- a comment that caused bad blood in the run-up to the Iraq war.

During a visit here for a NATO ministers meeting, Rumsfeld sat down with European journalists and explained what he had meant by that remark a year ago, when European opposition to war in Iraq was at a fever pitch.

He said he did not intend to denigrate Germany and France but was simply trying to draw distinctions between "old NATO," with its membership of 19 countries, and "new NATO," which will include seven more, most of them in eastern Europe.

When asked whether he felt bad about what he said, Rumsfeld replied, "No I don't regret it.

"I'm too old to have regrets."

Rumsfeld also said he doesn't believe more diplomacy is needed to soothe the offense taken -- though just such an effort was being made by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who broke bread with the French at the United Nations on Friday.

Over lunch with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and other senior French officials, Powell declared that the United States and France "were not on the same wavelength" last year when it came to Iraq. But this year, Powell said, he is confident the countries can work in concert on rebuilding Iraq.

"Rather than saying we have all these estrangements with our friends and allies around the world I would say it's quite the contrary," Powell said. "You know, disagreements come and disagreements go, and now we are all working together to press for peace and development and democracy around the world."

The positive words pleased U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who pointed out that one year and a day ago, Powell had been at the United Nations pleading for Security Council support on invading Iraq. Powell's appeal failed partly due to French opposition.

However, a year ago it was Rumsfeld, not Powell, who riled the French with an insinuation that newer NATO allies might prove more vital to European support for military intervention in Iraq than mainstays France and Germany, who along with Russia were mounting strong resistance to war.

In response to questioning during congressional testimony in January 2003, Rumsfeld said: "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east and there are a lot of new members."

Those words added strain, which didn't seem to ease until June, when President Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder buried the rift during a summit in Evian, France.

As he set out for his three-country European tour, Rumsfeld said differences between allies are inevitable. He noted that there have been moments throughout NATO's 55-year history when trans-Atlantic ties have gone "from little difficulties to things better -- it's been a pattern over my entire adult lifetime."

"I would say the relationships right now are fairly normal," Rumsfeld said.

Annan put it this way at the U.N.: "To see Secretary Powell and Minister de Villepin here, talking together, having lunch is not surprising at all. It's evolution in the right direction and natural in the scheme of things."

In a radio interview last month, Powell said it was true that the French could be irritating occasionally. "And I am sure that from time to time, I have annoyed them," he added.

AP Diplomatic Writer Barry Schweid contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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