BRUSSELS -- In one of the strongest warnings to date, the United States signaled yesterday that the European Union risked seriously undermining the trans-Atlantic relationship if it lifted its embargo on selling arms to China.
It also warned that some members of Congress are already demanding limitations on overseas defense procurement and joint defense projects.
If ever ''European equipment helped kill American men and women in conflict, that would not be good for the relationship," Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, told journalists at the US Embassy in the Belgian capital.
''Does it increase the chance that Congress will cut off these activities? Yes," Zoellick said. ''Do I think it is a good thing? No, but it is a reality."
Zoellick, who delivered his message to Brussels on the final stage of a 13-stop tour of European capitals, said the EU should recognize its responsibilities as an increasingly important world power and that any retaliation from the United States would come in the area of trans-Atlantic defense cooperation.
Zoellick said Washington's ''real concern" is the possibility of China obtaining high-tech weaponry.
The EU is contending with another heated issue: A decision is looming on whether it should take action to counter a surge of textile imports from China. The US is already moving toward renewing textile limits.
Zoellick's message on the arms embargo is a direct challenge to the EU, and is a stark amplification of Washington's concerns on China raised by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Germany and France have led efforts to lift the embargo, which was put in place after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.