US restores mission status of ‘valuable partner’ EU

The United States said Monday it has restored the EU’s mission in Washington to its former status, calling the bloc one of “its most valuable partners” as their troubled trade talks are set to resume.

The US State Department lowered the European Union mission’s diplomatic status from member state to international organization late last year, in what was seen as a further blow to transatlantic ties.

“The Department of State will again recognize the European Union’s representation in Washington as equivalent to that of a bilateral mission in the Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence,” a statement from Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, said.

“The European Union is a uniquely important organization, and one of America’s most valuable partners in ensuring global security and prosperity,” Sondland said.

“Europe’s security and success are inextricably linked to that of the United States, and this level of engagement and cooperation should be recognized appropriately in all settings.”

Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, welcomed the announcement.

“We are therefore pleased that the United States took the decision to revert to the usual practice,” Kocijancic told a briefing in Brussels.

The EU said in January it was in talks with US officials about the mission’s status after German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported the downgrade.

Deutsche Welle said it only came to light when the EU ambassador in Washington did not receive an invitation to the funeral of former US president George H.W. Bush in December.

Under US President Donald Trump, Europe’s once solid ties with the US have deteriorated and last year Washington imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU and other partners.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is to meet her US counterpart Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday in Washington as the two sides seek a trade deal limited to industrial goods and avert threatened US auto tariffs.

In December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a major policy speech in Brussels to take aim at the bloc, saying Britain’s Brexit vote had raised valid questions about whether the EU was putting the interests of bureaucrats ahead of those of citizens.

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