- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

The Bush administration said yesterday that France faces negative "consequences" for its "active lobbying" against the U.S.-led war in Iraq, including being sidelined in NATO and excluded from certain international debates and decisions.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin during a telephone conversation that the bitter diplomatic battles between the two allies will "obviously" have an effect on their relationship.
"We have to understand that we did have these disagreements, understand that they were serious and difficult, and that that has consequences for the future," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
Although he did not go into any details, Mr. Boucher said the consequences will be "more than philosophical" and "will affect how some decisions are made in the future." Unlike other U.N. Security Council members, "France just didn't disagree with our policy. They actively lobbied against it," he added.
A senior State Department official later said that an initial measure against Paris will be "the way we handle some issues at NATO." The United States will seek to bypass the alliance's main decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), in favor of the Defense Planning Committee, from which France withdrew in 1966.
The United States already used that option when Paris, along with Germany and Belgium, blocked a decision in the NAC to prepare to defend NATO member Turkey before all diplomatic efforts in Iraq had been exhausted.
Yesterday's phone call was initiated by Mr. de Villepin, though Mr. Powell had planned to ring his French counterpart after he first mentioned the "consequences" in an interview with PBS on Tuesday night.
A senior State Department official said Mr. Powell was not available when Mr. de Villepin called yesterday morning during a visit to Jordan, so they arranged to speak later.
The Foreign Ministry in Paris quoted Mr. de Villepin as saying that France will continue to uphold its principles.
"Throughout the Iraq crisis, France, along with a very large majority of the international community, acted in conformity with its convictions and its principles to defend international law," he said.
Mr. Boucher said the two top diplomats also discussed the Middle East peace process and Iraq's reconstruction, including the lifting of U.N. sanctions.
France has proposed that the sanctions be suspended while the Bush administration wants them removed permanently. Nevertheless, the French proposal "is a move … in the right direction," Mr. Boucher said.
Administration officials said a group of senior national-security aides met Monday to consider how to punish France, but no decision was made.
The meeting was initially to have been held last week and involve Mr. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George J. Tenet. But Monday's meeting was held at the level of deputies and chaired by Stephen Hadley, Miss Rice's deputy.
Yesterday, Mr. Powell, Mr. Rumsfeld and Miss Rice met at the State Department for what Mr. Boucher described as "one of their regular lunches they have every week or so."
Policy battles between Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld and their agencies in general have been a subject of numerous press reports since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad.
Points of contention are said to include the exact nature of the U.N. role in postwar Iraq, talks with North Korea, relations with Syria and the so-called "road map" for peace in the Middle East.

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