updated 4/5/2005 8:44:54 AM ET 2005-04-05T12:44:54

The European Union's choice to head the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, is a "very strong candidate," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said Tuesday, adding the United States would be happy if he is selected.

Zoellick, who met with the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the Bush administration "made very clear that we would be comfortable with ... Lamy."

"We believe he would be a very strong candidate for that position," Zoellick said after the talks. "The WTO would be well served by his candidacy but ... there are other candidates who would do a reasonable job as well."

Zoellick said he expected Lamy to head to Washington later this month to present his case for the world's top trade job at the U.S. Congress.

He said the EU's backing of Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary who won the unanimous approval of the World Bank's board last week, was not a political exchange to get U.S. backing of Lamy.

"There is no trade-off," said Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative who worked closely with Lamy, who was the EU's trade commissioner until last October.

"He doesn't need a trade-off, he is somebody that we think would do a very good job."

Three other candidates are vying to become WTO chief, including Jaya Krishna Cuttaree, the foreign affairs and trade minister of Mauritius; Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Brazil's ambassador to the WTO; and Uruguay's ambassador to the WTO, Carlos Perez del Castillo.

Current Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand ends his term Aug. 31. The race to succeed him formally started in January, with all candidates launching their campaigns.

Zoellick, who met with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner on Monday, said he also raised the possible lifting of the EU arms embargo on China during his talks with lawmakers, many of whom backed Washington's opposition to such a move.

"There was very broad common understanding against the lifting of the weapons ban on China," in the European Parliament, said German conservative Elmar Brok, chairman of the foreign affairs committee.

Zoellick said a key message during his European talks was to "point out implications ... to point out the risk of this action" to EU officials of lifting the 15-year ban, which he said could destabilize the region and would do little to promote human rights change in China.

He also added that senior U.S. lawmakers would be quick to cut off burgeoning defense procurement cooperation between the United States and Europe, fearing that American weapons and technology could be used against U.S. soldiers in Asia, if EU countries start to sell arms to China.

"The main thing we can do is to be honest and direct on the implications," Zoellick said. "We certainly don't want people to be surprised if there is a counteraction."

A deal on lifting the embargo, which was expected by June, looks likely to be postponed after several countries, including Britain, raised concerns over a recently passed anti-secession law by the Chinese parliament that authorizes force against Taiwan if the island seeks formal independence.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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