French leaders reacted angrily Thursday to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissal of France and Germany as the "old Europe," saying the comments underscore America's arrogance.

Finance Minister Francis Mer said he was "profoundly vexed" by the remarks.

"I wanted to remind everyone that this 'old Europe' has resilience, and is capable of bouncing back," Mer told LCI television. "And it will show it, in time."

"If you knew what I feel like telling him, to Mr. Rumsfeld ... " said Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot on Europe-1 radio. She then stopped herself and said the word would be too offensive to publish.

Martine Aubry, a Socialist leader and influential former labor minister, said Rumsfeld's comments "show once again a certain arrogance of the United States."

Washington "continues to want to alone govern the world and more and more without rules," she told RTL radio.

Rumsfeld made the remarks at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday after the leaders of France and Germany agreed to counter U.S. threats of war against Iraq by committing together to give peace a chance.

The decision from the two European powerhouses led NATO to postpone its planning for a possible war in Iraq.

Rumsfeld downplayed France and Germany's reluctance, saying he was confident that other NATO members would come together behind the United States.

"Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem ... but you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they're not with France and Germany on this. They're with the United States," he said.

In responding to a reporter's question about French and German qualms, Rumsfeld hinted the United States would turn to new NATO members in Eastern Europe for support.

"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't," he said. "I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east and there are a lot of new members."

Washington's European allies are deeply divided over the possibility of war, with the French and Germans opposing any rush toward military action while the United States and Britain intensify their military buildup on Iraq's borders.

The Bush administration accuses Iraq of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

Russia and China have also expressed reservations about going to war against Iraq. On Thursday, China said it supports French efforts to find a peaceful solution, underlining the challenge the United States would face if it seeks U.N. Security Council support for military action.

"We have always stood for a diplomatic and political resolution of the Iraqi issue," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.