Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who two weeks ago infuriated American veterans by saying draftees added "no value" to the U.S. military, has outraged French and German officials by labeling their countries "old Europe" in their opposition to a quick military strike on Iraq.
"The only answer is, 'Cool down,' " German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters during a visit to Turkey. He added, "We are good friends and allies."
The French finance minister, Francis Mer, said in a television interview in Paris, "I want to remind everyone that 'old Europe' has resilience and is capable of bouncing back."
Martine Aubry, a socialist former labor minister in France, said Rumsfeld's remarks "show once again a certain arrogance of the United States." And the ecology minister, Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, stopped herself from commenting, saying the word she wanted to use would be too offensive for radio.
Asked in Washington on Wednesday about growing European opposition to war with Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't." He added: "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."
That remark, coming from a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, struck nerves in Paris and Berlin, where officials in the last week have made much of trying to revive their decades-old alliance as the "motor" driving European political and economic integration. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday attended a Paris ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of a friendship treaty that helped bring about today's European unity.
Rumsfeld's remarks summed up a sentiment long felt on both sides of the Atlantic but rarely expressed openly -- that as NATO and the European Union expand eastward, they are taking in new, more pro-American members.
The United States actively pushed last year for the invitations to join NATO that Romania and Bulgaria received at a November summit of the alliance. Many Europeans believe the motive was in part to add more pro-American voices to NATO council meetings.
And at a December summit of EU leaders, the Bush administration lobbied hard for Turkey to be admitted as a member, with last-minute telephone calls that many Europeans found offensive. Turkey was not admitted, but was given two years to meet certain legal, human rights and political criteria.
French television stations tonight were dominated by what one channel called "the quarrel" between the United States and Europe on the Iraq issue. In a statement released by the Elysee Palace, Chirac said the debate on Iraq should unfold "seriously and calmly."
Schroeder, speaking alongside Chirac before students in Berlin, won a round of applause when he reiterated Germany's position that Iraq needed to be disarmed "by peaceful means."
"That is the common position of France and Germany, and we will not be diverted from it," he said.
Meanwhile in Brussels, NATO Secretary General George Robertson played down the divergence between Washington and its European allies over the Iraq issue. Referring to NATO's postponement Wednesday of a decision on U.S. requests for indirect military assistance in the event of a war, Robertson said, "This is not some sort of bust-up." He called it "a disagreement on timing, not on substance."