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Bush rejects move to boost EU might

Washington, Feb. 19: President George W. Bush set strict limits on the EU's global ambitions last night, saying that there was no need for the Franco-German goal of forming an alternative superpower.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, his first with a British newspaper since his re-election last year, he pointedly rejected a call by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for Nato to be overhauled. Schroeder's words have been widely interpreted as an attempt to give the EU's fledgling foreign and military bodies more muscle.

'I disagree,' Bush said. 'I think Nato is vital. Nato is a very important relationship as far as the US is concerned. It is one that has worked in the past and will work in the future just so long as there is that strong commitment to Nato.'

Echoing Tony Blair's repeated calls for Europe and America to work together, Bush had emollient words for Europe's leaders before his visit next week.

He implicitly acknowledged that the time for the unilateralism of his first term was over. His message next week would be that America needed Europe on its side and could not 'spread freedom' alone.

Despite a series of unresolved disagreements he was clearly determined to bolster hopes on both continents that they could rebuild some of the relationships that were shattered in the bruising transatlantic rows of his first four years in office.

'My trip to Europe is to seize the moment and invigorate [the] relationship,' he said. 'We compete at times but we do not compete when it comes to values.'

Bush will become the first American President to visit the European Commission and, given his supporters' deep misgivings about the EU's ambitions, he had remarkably warm words for European integration.

'I have always been fascinated to see how the British culture and the French culture and the sovereignty of nations can be integrated into a larger whole in a modern era,' he said. 'And progress is being made and I am hopeful it works because one should not fear a strong partner.'

Asked about the draft European constitution, he cited the difficulties that the US had faced in formulating its federal system of government. But there was no hiding his view that the EU should not try to counter-balance the power of America.

He delivered a pointed rebuff to Schroeder who suggested last week that Nato was no longer an adequate body for consulting and co-ordinating the vision of its members. 'I look forward to talking to him about exactly what he meant by that,' Bush said. 'Some have said we must have a unified Europe to balance America. Why, when in fact we share values and goals' As opposed to counter-balancing each other, why don't we view this as a moment when we can move in a concerted fashion to achieve those goals'

The President said it was up to him to 'do a better job of explaining the common goals and the fact that by working together we are more likely to achieve them for our own security'.

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