- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2004

PARIS — France sees a visit next month by President Bush to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day as an opportunity to salvage bilateral relations and move beyond the diplomatic feud over the Iraq war, senior French officials say.

They also have signaled that France is ready to assist the return of the United Nations to Iraq, noting that Paris is cooperating closely with the United States on the war on terror and nonproliferation efforts.

Even in their responses to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, French authorities have been restrained, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous saying simply on Tuesday that France supports “the application of international human law at all times in all places, especially the Geneva Conventions” on the treatment of prisoners of war.

A ministry spokesman went further yesterday, saying the acts reported to have taken place at the prison, “if they are confirmed, are disgraceful and constitute clear and unacceptable violations of international conventions.”

The White House announced in late March that Mr. Bush would meet in Paris on June 5 with President Jacques Chirac and then travel to Normandy for the June 6 anniversary of the 1944 landing.

The visit “will be a tremendous occasion of showing that whatever the differences were, or still could exist on some issues, we are still allies and we are still working together,” said Jean-Maurice Ripert, director for U.N. and international organizations at France’s Foreign Ministry.

About Iraq, he said, Washington and Paris still are discussing what should happen in the near future.

“We have urged the Americans, and we are happy they are still committed to transferring responsibilities to some Iraqi authorities on the 30th of June. We will be helping as much as we can,” he said.

“We are committed, as they seem to be now, to the idea that the U.N. should come back, and be helpful where they can be helpful, where the conditions will be permitting such action by the U.N.”

Asked about the overall state of bilateral ties, Mr. Ripert said the countries had “a relationship of good and intensive cooperation. …”

“We have disagreements. We accept that. We have to live with it. We can live with the idea that our closest friend and ally, the United States of America, does not always agree with us.”

This marks a change from the low point in French-U.S. relations a little more than a year ago, when France blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the war in Iraq. The mood remained frosty when Mr. Bush met with Mr. Chirac at a Group of Eight summit in Evian, France, last summer.

The diplomatic brawl over France’s U.N. veto last year inflamed the populations on both sides of the Atlantic, triggering informal boycotts of French wine and some American consumer goods. The U.S. Congress changed the name of french fries on its cafeteria menu to “freedom fries.”

Howard H. Leach, the U.S. ambassador in Paris, noted that the two countries have extensive economic connections with combined annual trade and income flows of about $90 billion a year.

Asked about the implication of several French companies and individuals in an Iraq oil-for-food scandal, Mr. Ripert said the Chirac administration would cooperate fully with an inquiry headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

“We have absolutely nothing to hide.”

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