US sneers at 'chocolate makers'

Washington - The United States on Tuesday sneered at plans by four European countries to create an autonomous European military command headquarters near Brussels separate from Nato, referring to the idea's proponents as "chocolate makers".

In unusually blunt language that drew surprised gasps from reporters, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher scoffed at Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg for continuing to support the proposal that they first introduced at a mini-summit in April.

He described the April meeting as one between "four countries that got together and had a little bitty summit" and then referred to them collectively as "the chocolate makers".

After hearing the reaction to his comments, Boucher immediately stood back from the remark, explaining that he had seen the phrase in press reports and saying that he should not have repeated them.

At the same time, though, he repeated US opposition to the plan first outlined by Secretary of State Colin Powell who called the creation of a new European military headquarters "unncecessary" shortly after it was proposed.

"We've been strong supporters of the European Union, we've been strong supporters of effort that was made by the European Union to create its own military and security capabilities and to do that in co-operation and in conjuction with Nato," Boucher said.

"We've worked very closely with European governments, particularly in this administration, to work out the arrangements to that," he said.

"We think that's quite sufficient, we don't understand why we need more military headquarters or training programs," Boucher said.

Earlier Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium insisted that it was going ahead with plans to open the new headquarters despite opposition from key EU states including Britain.

The idea was born amid great European opposition to the US-led war against Iraq particularly from the four nations who proposed it.

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