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Europeans lobby U.S. Congress on China arms

Europeans are vigorously lobbying the U.S. Congress to convince lawmakers — with little apparent success — that lifting their arms embargo on China would not threaten U.S. security interests in Asia, U.S. and European sources said on Friday.

While the Bush administration seems resigned to the European Union ending the embargo sometime this year, diplomatic and congressional sources said it was not clear if the trans-Atlantic alliance could avoid a damaging fight over the issue.

The Europeans “have not been effective” in making their case to Congress, a senior Senate aide told Reuters.

A European diplomat said while it was hoped the dispute could be resolved, “it could be a bar fight.”

President George W. Bush is expected to discuss the issue when he visits Europe on a fence-mending tour next week.

With China on the rise militarily, economically and politically, the EU has been discussing lifting the embargo, imposed 15 years ago after China’s military fired on pro democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

An analysis by a policy committee representing the Senate’s Republican majority called the arms embargo decision “nothing less than a threshold test of Europe’s leadership in world affairs and its solidarity with the United States.”

A new resolution put forward by such U.S. senators as Joseph Biden, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sam Brownback, a leading committee Republican, warned that lifting the embargo “would potentially adversely affect transatlantic defense cooperation.”

The EU’s main decision-making body decided against removing the embargo in December but indicated it would make a final decision within the next several months.

U.S. officials have argued that without the embargo, Europeans would be free to sell Beijing advanced technology that could some day be used against U.S. forces if America has to help defend self-governing Taiwan in a war with China.

European officials have been more visible than usual on Capitol Hill, explaining their case. “It’s been very intense over the last three or four weeks,” one diplomat said.

The threat of U.S. congressional retaliation is considered “serious and we’re spending a lot of time talking to people about what the EU has proposed,” he said.

The administration “understands the political reality” that the embargo will be lifted and seems to have joined Europe in viewing the dispute as an opportunity to foster a deeper strategic dialogue on technology exports, the diplomat said.

“We don’t think the political symbolism (of lifting the embargo) is as great as some would believe. Also, it’s pretty clear we’re not going to be selling aircraft carriers and thousands of planes to the Chines so they can kill U.S. servicemen,” he said.

He said it was hoped that when Bush and European leaders meet next week “there will be agreement on both sides to a deepen the level of consultation” on east Asian security.

This would take into account U.S. concerns about technology transfers to China, he added.

CIA Director Porter Goss told Congress this week China’s military buildup was tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.

EU officials say despite such views Washington has sought its own improving relations with China and the embargo stands in the way of Europe developing similar ties.

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