Iraq: France Worries about American Resentment:
Paris and Washington Have not yet Gotten Over their Crisis
By Claire Tr an
Friday 23 May 2003
Colin Powell s arrival in Paris Thursday May 22 was not the occasion for a warm reunion between France and the United States. Although Paris voted for the American resolution organizing post-war Iraq in the Security Council, tensions remain with Washington. "This is a step in the right direction ( ) which does not mean that disagreements are forgotten , judged Mr. Powell. The American official also explained that, we need to review the totality of policies of our two countries . Will the crisis between Paris and Washington last long? Academics and specialists disagree. French CEOs are relieved. Fearing economic reprisals, they ascertain that there aren t any and hope for a rapid reconciliation between the two countries.
From his arrival in Paris Thursday, May 22 for a preparatory meeting for the G-8 summit between the 7 OECD nations and Russia, Colin Powell has given notice that a new phase in relations between the United States and France has opened, after a time that had not been, he said, pleasant for anyone . While the American Secretary of State spoke before the Franco-American Press Club, France had just voted at the UN in favor of the proposed resolution on Iraq presented by the US. Paris thus concluded a period of open conflict at the United Nations.
Thursday afternoon, Jacques Chirac took the initiative to telephone George Bush, as he had not done since April 15. "It was useful to have this contact ten days before the G-8 summit in Evian , the Elysee announced, rejecting any direct link with the UN vote on the resolution in New York. With the G8 in view or not, "we would never have approved something unacceptable at the UN, but the US proposal had been considerably improved , the spokesperson added.
The conversation with the United States President had only lasted ten minutes, but it was described as productive by White House Spokesman, Ari Fleischer, who added, that the President was delighted to participate in the Evian Summit. It s been a long time since Mr. Fleisher has been willing to risk himself so far on any Franco-American subject.
To say that one was present for a warm reunion would, all the same, be excessive. Colin Powell is not naturally given to effusion and when he was questioned on Franco-American relations, his tone was that of a schoolmaster, who, without minimizing the mistake, agrees to give a new chance to the repentant naughty student. France s vote in favor of the resolution is a step in the right direction to go together toward the future , he said, which does not mean that past disagreements are forgotten.
Relations between Washington and Paris have always had their ups and downs . Colin Powell is confident in the capacity of the two countries to get over this crisis, as they have always done with preceding ones. However, when questioned later on TF 1, the Secretary of State allowed a threat to hover: Let s look at things squarely, there was a disagreement and we need to reexamine the totality of policies that exist between our two countries and see whether certain changes may not be necessary.
The version that he gives out the last few months- in essence, that the United States spontaneously turned to the United Nations with regard to Iraq and that it s the United Nations which, up until Thursday s vote, failed- is certainly different from the French view of things. However, the idea that France could be punished in the economic domain for its behavior is, according to Powell, totally mistaken. It is true, the Secretary of State said, that NATO military exercises planned with France had been cancelled. But that s a Pentagon decision, which does not reflect the whole American administration , he emphasized.
The last few months, the Elysee, along with the Chambers of Commerce and different economic observers, has surveyed the possible effects of the crisis between the two countries. There have not been reprisals, confirms a spokesperson in Jacques Chirac s entourage, there is nothing that would allow us to conclude a real and durable boycott was underway of French companies by Americans. And this French commentator questioned about business and morality: All uncertainty at the international level weighs, for sure, on economic actors; but the uncertainty was there in any case. How dare the Medef (a French association of business leaders) deduce from that that it would have been better for France to rally to a good war ?
A fundamental reconciliation has not taken place, neither on the American, nor on the French side. At the Elysee they explain that Paris and Washington will live with essential differences, but also agree on fundamental issues. For example, the fight against terrorism: neither the US Department of the Interior, nor the Justice Department, nor even the CIA want to have to keep their distance from their French homologues who are particularly valuable to them.
The French and American Presidents will have to reach an understanding at the Evian Summit on the effort to be agreed in the world struggle against AIDS and to compete in this arena. The two countries are to give the signal for a revival of world economic growth.
However Washington and Paris have not definitively buried the hatchet with regard to Iraq. The French Foreign affairs Minister never stopped repeating, It s the UN s turn! all day Thursday. Dominique de Villepin says he is happy, however, that France may take its place among the others in the work of reconstructing this country after the dictatorship, and that this is how the indispensable unity of the international community is reconstituted.
Some in his entourage present things with less exaltation. The United States, they say, has made significant concessions in their proposed UN resolution. To ask for more, would be to humiliate them, to ask them to simply pull down their pants , one asserts. They did it, some say in Paris, essentially because they are totally incapable of managing the post-war effort, everything eludes them in Iraq, and moreover nothing is going well anywhere else in the world, and the American press overflows with this deplorable report.
France s rallying is presented as simultaneously strategic and tactical, at once positive, as Dominique de Villepin hopes, who sees the UN potentially resuming its prerogatives, but also as simply prudent. One has to think about the eventuality of the next strike , says a French diplomat.