The European Commission yesterday said it will prohibit any European corporation from complying with the U.S. law against trade with Cuba, escalating a battle between two of the world's largest trading partners.
The EC, meeting in Brussels, said it is considering anti-boycott legislation to counter Washington's Helms-Burton law, which allows U.S. citizens and companies to sue foreign companies that now own assets in Cuba that were confiscated from Americans after the 1959 revolution.
Washington quickly fired back.
"Our allies should be ashamed that they have decided to pick a fight with the U.S. in order to defend the Castro tyranny," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican. "It is obvious that the motivation for their actions are economic even if it means aiding and abetting the Cuban communist dictatorship."
The State Department urged the Europeans not to take action.
The U.S. law has been condemned by every major U.S. trading partner around the the world because they say it attempts to impose American laws beyond its borders. The controversy promises to be a test case at the World Trade Organization, where officials are trying to determine whether U.S. policy violates international trade law.
The EC's vice president, Sir Leon Brittan, said the law "offends and attacks" American allies and "establishes a dangerous precedent the U.S. itself will come to regret if other countries follow it in the future."
Under the proposal announced yesterday, to come up for a commission vote in September, Europe would forbid any company or person from complying with Helms-Burton "whether actively or by omission," and would allow its member nations to impose penalties on companies that do comply.
It also would allow companies sued under the law to countersue in European courts, to recover their losses from U.S. assets in Europe.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called on Europe not to take reciprocal action.
"The United States has not caused injury to the European Union that is . . . approximate in any way to the injury caused by Cuba against the United States and American companies," Mr. Burns said. "This is a unique case in modern diplomatic history where one government refuses to compensate the nationals of another, and therefore there is a reason why we've had to take …