- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

From combined dispatches
Top aides to President Bush plan to meet this week on the future of the Franco-American relationship amid sharp divisions in the administration over how to deal with France over its global campaign against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are to convene a meeting at the White House tomorrow in an effort to decide whether France should be punished for its antiwar stance, administration officials said.
France's President Jacques Chirac and Mr. Bush held their first conversation since the war started on Tuesday. The White House characterized the talks as "businesslike."
The officials said it was unlikely any agreement would be reached and stressed that even if a consensus is forged, it would still be up to Mr. Bush to decide on the course of future policy, the officials told the Agence France-Presse news service on the condition of anonymity.
Debate has broken down along the lines of most Washington power struggles, with hawks at the Pentagon favoring a harsh line against the French and doves at the State Department arguing for a more restrained approach, the officials said.
"We're looking at how we are going to interact with France after what has happened in the past couple of months," one official said.
"It should be no surprise that there are different points of view within different departments, and they are going to be hashed out," the official added.
Defense Department hawks, led by Mr. Rumsfeld; his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; and influential adviser Richard Perle have suggested limiting France's military role in NATO and its participation in Iraqi-reconstruction projects, the officials said.
Two of the three have said as much in public.
Mr. Wolfowitz told U.S. lawmakers last week that France should "pay some consequences" for its opposition to the war in Iraq, particularly its veto of NATO support for Turkey. Mr. Perle echoed those remarks in an interview with a French newspaper.
Proposals for doing this include bypassing the North Atlantic Council, NATO's traditional governing body, and relying more on the alliance's Defense Planning Committee, from which France withdrew in 1966, the officials said.
The State Department, meanwhile, wants to move beyond the Iraq split and focus more on areas of future cooperation with France, including in Iraq, and is vehemently opposed to any steps against Paris at NATO, the officials said.
The debate within the Bush administration comes amid fledgling moves by France to reconcile with the United States.
The latest move came Tuesday when Paris, which long insisted only the United Nations could legitimately oversee change in Iraq, made known it could accept a gradual involvement of the world body while U.S. and British forces run the country.
"There are many projects we can work on together and progressively find a way to put the United Nations at the heart of the action," Mr. Chirac's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said at an EU summit that opened yesterday in Athens.
"Issue by issue, we have to find the right balance between the role of the United Nations, which must be the essential role, and the American and British forces on the ground."
France outraged the United States earlier this year by threatening to veto any Security Council resolution that would authorize a war and insisting that U.N. arms inspections Washington considered useless should continue for months.
The dispute flared up into the worst bilateral tension since Gen. Charles de Gaulle forced U.S. troops out of France and pulled his forces out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1966 in open defiance of U.S. leadership of the West.
Miss Colonna made clear that France made no apology for its staunch opposition to war in the period leading up to the conflict, saying war "was not necessary and could produce several serious consequences for the region."
But she added: "We will soon be in a new phase in Iraq when it will be important to work together, with our Security Council partners, to do what has to be done."
Germany, whose opposition to the war was as strong as France's but not as crucial because it is only a rotating rather than veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, has also been making efforts to inch back into Washington's favor.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met British Prime Minister Tony Blair Mr. Bush's best European ally at his Hanover home on Tuesday to start building bridges in earnest.
"No matter what the differences of opinions were before, it goes without saying that healthy trans-Atlantic relations are necessary and we'll work toward that aim in the future," he said.

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