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U.N. diplomats from `Old Europe' aim wisecracks at Rumsfeld

UNITED NATIONS—European and even Chinese diplomats took shots Friday—some with humor—at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent branding of France and Germany as "old Europe" for their reluctance to go to war against Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, one of the first speakers in the pivotal debate at the Security Council, noted tartly:

"This message comes to you today from an old country, France, from a continent like mine, Europe, that has known wars, occupation and barbarity."

De Villepin said his "old country" hadn't forgotten that "it owes to the freedom-fighters who came from America and elsewhere," but added that it hoped to "build together a better world" by working cooperatively with all nations.

Perhaps without intending to, de Villepin set off a string of references to "old" countries.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke next:

"Mr. President, I speak on behalf of a very old country founded"—laughter broke out—"founded in 1066 by the French." His reference was to the last successful invasion of Britain, by William the Conqueror, of the French province of Normandy.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan made a passing reference to the "ancient civilization" that he represents, noting that "our ancestors proposed long ago the idea of peace being built as a first option."

Secretary of State Colin Powell picked up the theme:

"I'm very pleased to be here as the secretary of state of a relatively new country on the face of the Earth, but I think I take some credit sitting here as being the representative of the oldest democracy that is assembled here around this table."

Even Bulgaria weighed in.

"I have the great honor of speaking on behalf of another old European country," said Stefan Tafrov, ambassador of Bulgaria. "I also speak on behalf of a new European democracy on the Security Council. And I'm very happy to be able to do that."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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