- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

France has put at risk a broad range of foreign policy and economic interests with its opposition to the U.S. campaign against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
The Bush administration has limited tools to express its displeasure with France directly. But Washington is in a prime position to frustrate long-term French interests to be a player in the Middle East, in Europe and on the world stage.
Bilateral trade in goods and services amounted to $50.2 billion in 2001 and $49 billion last year, but the vast bulk of the trade is regulated by rules set through the European Union and the World Trade Organization. A U.S. challenge over EU policies on bio-engineered foods, for example, could wind up hurting close allies Britain and Spain as much as France.
But France's veto right in the U.N. Security Council, its ambitions for a leading role in the expanding European Union, its lucrative rights to Iraqi oil fields and prospective postwar reconstruction contracts could all be in jeopardy if Washington and its allies decide to retaliate.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," said the Iraq showdown has created "some issues here we are going to have to work out" with France.
"I think, in the short term, we have damaged our relationship with France," Mr. Powell said.
Lawmakers in Congress have floated dozens of ideas for retaliating against France, and not just by re-christening French fries as freedom fries at Capitol cafeterias.
French wine, French bottled water and French cheese have all been raised as possible targets for sanctions, but such measures would almost certainly run afoul of existing agreements with the EU and the WTO.
The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing tomorrow on a bill by Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, to bar the Pentagon from participating in the prestigious Paris Air Show through 2008.
Mr. Saxton, who has also introduced a bill to block any French company from U.S. grants or aid in the rebuilding of postwar Iraq, said the French "can't have their cake and eat it, too."
While official U.S. action may be limited, French officials in recent days have aired fears that the harsh words across the Atlantic may inspire U.S. consumer boycotts of French goods, hesitation among U.S. firms to invest in France and, most worrisome, a drop in the roughly 2 million U.S. tourists who visit France each year the top destination for American vacationers abroad.
But France still hopes to play a major economic and political role in a postwar Iraq, a role looking increasingly problematic as the Iraq confrontation and France's resistance of the U.S. initiative drag on.
Barhim Salih, a top Kurdish Iraqi official and a key member of the U.S.-backed exile opposition group, said Friday that both French and Russian oil deals with Saddam "will not be honored" after he is gone.
"The new Iraqi government should respect those who stood by us, and not those who stood beside the dictator," said Mr. Salih.
More generally, analysts say, the United States has the power to undermine many of France's most cherished foreign policy assets, from its position of influence inside the EU to its veto power as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
France's hope of having the dominant say in the re-shaping of European institutions will be sorely challenged as a number of eastern and central European states are poised to join both the EU and NATO over the next few years. Many of these states are suspicious of French and German ambitions to dominate the continent, and they favor far closer ties to Washington.
"These countries' entry into the EU and NATO would … conclusively frustrate French and French-German ambitions to develop and lead a 'European' foreign and defense policy in competition with the U.S.," said Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
France's major-power status is crucially linked to its Security Council veto. U.S. officials say they have not considered any formal proposal to remove or dilute France's veto, but a future U.S. foreign policy that bypasses the United Nations in major conflicts, as hinted at by Mr. Powell yesterday, could have the same effect.

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