France, U.K. say defense alliance no threat to NATO
November 25, 1999
From staff and wire reports
LONDON (CNN) -- Britain and France said on Thursday that their relationship with each other is fine and that plans for greater cooperation on European defense were not a threat to NATO.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at a joint news conference that talks in London with French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine had been "immensely good and broad-ranging," despite a disagreement over British beef.
On defense cooperation between the two nations, Blair said that Britain and France had agreed to a text that set out "ambitious but realistic targets for strengthening military capabilities."
"The declaration also outlines specific areas of U.K.-French military cooperation such as shared use of military transport assets and developing further our close cooperation on defense requirements," Blair said.
But both Blair and Chirac said the European Defense Initiative was not meant to bypass NATO.
"Let me make one thing quite clear. This is not about creating some single European army under single command. It is not an attempt in any shape or form to supplant or compete with NATO," Blair said.
He said the plan was meant to reinforce NATO as the cornerstone of Europe's defense while enabling Europe to act effectively in situations where the entire alliance is not involved.
The United States has been alarmed by references to an autonomous European defense capability. It wants NATO to remain the first point of reference for European military deployment.
Chirac: No beef over beef
Chirac said a fight over beef between the two nations had not spoiled his talks with Blair. The European Commission lifted its ban on British beef in August but France has refused to comply. The French government has referred the issue to its food safety agency, which is expected to rule on it next week.
"What we're about here is trying to make sure that public opinion everywhere is satisfied entirely as to the quality and safety of British beef," Blair said.
"Beef has not cast a shadow on our summit," Chirac said. He said he was confident the disagreement could be resolved without either country having to call its own interests into question.
The French president also called for the creation of a European food safety agency, similar to the one in operation in France, to reassure European consumers.
"For the future, of course, we should create a European food safety agency which is transparent, efficient and above suspicion," Chirac said at the news conference.
Blair said the two leaders talked about a variety of other issues, including Russia's war with Chechnya, the Middle East peace process and Iraq, Africa and Kosovo.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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