BRUSSELS: French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe will respond "without weakness" to the threat of a US trade war as EU leaders maintained countermeasures despite a climbdown by US President Donald Trump.
"The EU must be united and determined... if we are attacked we will react without weakness," Macron said at the end of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
"We talk about everything in principle with a friendly country that respects WTO rules. Nothing should be addressed when it is with a gun to your head", he said referring to the World Trade Organization, the body that handles trade disputes.
The French leader spoke after Trump on Thursday authorised the suspension of controversial tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from key trade partners including the European Union, but only until May 1.
"It doesn't seem to me that this date is a realistic one given the broad issues we have to discuss with the US," said Jean-Claude Juncker, chief of the European Commission, which handles trade talks for the 28 member states.
Given the timing, EU leaders said in a statement the bloc would "reserve its rights, in compliance with WTO rules, to respond to the US measures as appropriate and in a proportionate manner."
The commission earlier this month drew up a list of potential counter-measures, including tariffs on peanut butter, motorcycles and denim jeans, in case Trump slapped on the tariffs.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a tweet that "these discussions between allies and partners should not be subject to artificial deadlines," she added.
Trump's exemption landed just before a Friday deadline, and came after eleventh hour talks in Washington between Malmstrom and top US officials.
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea were also spared.
"We are just starting a negotiation with the European Union because they've really shut out our country to a large extent, they have barriers.. very strong tariffs," Trump said in Washington on Thursday.
'Gun to our head'
Some leaders bristled at Trump's tactics and said that his methods were unworthy of close allies.
"This gives the impression that the head of the United States is looking to negotiate with the European Union with a gun to our head," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Speaking in Paris, EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici warned that the "devil was in the details".
"This decision is temporary and will require exchanges with Washington and we will have to prepare for all eventualities," Moscovici told France Inter radio.
Despite the apparent climbdown toward Europe, Trump has sparked fresh trade war fears by imposing huge tariffs on Chinese imports with Beijing unveiling its own measures against US goods.