BRUSSELS (AFP) - European Union (EU) foreign ministers were to hold special talks Sunday (Nov 13) on Donald Trump's stunning US election win as Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg warned bluntly of the dangers of American isolationism.
But the talks were to take place without the foreign ministers of Britain and France, apparently reflecting their concerns about over-dramatising European fears.
The informal dinner has been called by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on the eve of a scheduled monthly meeting of foreign ministers.
An aide to Mogherini said the talks would simply be about "exchanging views on how to move forward" in EU-US relations.
"Whenever elections take place in a partner of such strategic importance as the United States, we obviously reflect on future cooperation," a senior EU official said.
Mogherini is to meet the press afterwards, at around 8pm GMT(4am Monday, Singapore time).
The meeting takes place amid a surge of anxiety sparked by Trump's campaign-trail rhetoric, which questioned the seven-decade-old US commitment to Europe.
In an article in Britain's Observer newspaper on Sunday, Nato Secretary-General Stoltenberg warned: "We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation."
"This is no time to question the partnership between Europe and the United States," he said. "(...) Going it alone is not an option. In these uncertain times we need strong American leadership, and we need Europeans to shoulder their fair share of the burden.
"But above all we need to recognise the value of the partnership between Europe and America. It remains indispensable."
In London, a foreign office spokesman said British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson would attend Monday's scheduled meeting, but not the dinner.
"We do not see the need for an additional meeting on Sunday because the US election timetable is long established," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
"An act of democracy has taken place, there is a transition period and we will work with the current and future administrations to ensure the best outcomes for Britain."
In Paris, the French foreign ministry said Ayrault was unable to attend the dinner as he had a "very important meeting" early Monday with incoming UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Ayrault and Johnson are expected to be replaced at the dinner table by their respective EU ambassadors.
Trump's apparent coolness on Europe has caused nervousness throughout a bloc grappling with an migration crisis, a stalled economy and a resurgent Russia on its eastern border.
But Trump's lack of solid foreign policy priorities has kept everyone guessing.
One European diplomat said: "I have not had anyone teary on my shoulder - but everyone is saying 'what does it mean?' and everyone is trying to interpret it." Trump has had phone calls with US allies since his election win, notably British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Francois Hollande.
But in a sign of the concern that Trump's victory has caused in Europe, outgoing US President Barack Obama is himself set to meet Merkel, May and Hollande in the wake of Trump's victory.
Trump's win is also being seen by some in the EU as a chance to push ahead with projects of its own in a bid to build unity after the shock of Brexit.
On Monday the foreign ministers will discuss plans to boost defence cooperation - a move that Britain had long blocked - including a controversial proposal for a European military headquarters.
"Let's stop talking about disarray (after the Trump victory). Isn't this a chance for Europe to pull itself together?" Ayrault told the French radio station Europe 1.
"The Europeans have to strengthen their ability for strategic autonomy in the field of defence, and that they have an industrial policy," he said.
Britain has traditionally led opposition to stronger European defence initiatives, arguing that these could weaken US commitment to Nato. Washington shoulders two-thirds of the 28-nation alliance's military spending.
But commentators say Britain is now on particularly tricky ground as it plans to leave the EU yet also needs Trump's backing for special trade status after Brexit.