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EU Leaders Approve Defense Deal

December 12, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ European Union leaders agreed Friday on plans to boost the EU’s ability to mount military operations, with or without help from NATO, diplomats said.

The plan, presented by Britain, France and Germany, aims to resolve a seven-month dispute with the United States, which had denounced earlier plans for an EU military headquarters as a serious threat to the unity of the NATO alliance.

Before the EU summit approved the text _ which sets up an EU planning cell at NATO’s military headquarters _ Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said it would be ``a fantastic step forward.″

``The accord sanctions the importance of NATO ... It is an agreement that our American friends will like,″ Berlusconi told reporters as he arrived to chair the summit.

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