- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

PARIS, March 19 (UPI) — After being ridiculed in the media and denounced from London to Los Angeles for its anti-war stance, French diplomatic patience ran out Wednesday as Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin took his British counterpart to task.

During a morning telephone call, de Villepin told British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that Paris was "shocked and pained" by the less-than-kind words toward France by British lawmakers recently.

"These proposals aren't dignified for a country that is a friend and a European partner," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said during a news briefing as he reported the conversation by the two foreign affairs chiefs.

"This presentation of facts does not conform to reality and fools nobody," he added, referring to recent, unflattering French comments at the British House of Commons.

The French-bashing by British lawmakers has been replicated by other government officials as well.

Last week, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair dubbed France's position at the U.N. Security Council "poisonous."

In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Straw also described as "extraordinary" French President Jacques Chirac's threat to veto a war resolution on Iraq "whatever the circumstances."

Not included in Straw's assessment, however, was a key addition by the French president regarding his opposition to a military solution toward Baghdad.

"At this moment," Chirac added during a television interview last week, suggesting the French position might change with the fast-moving events.

Meanwhile, the London-based correspondent of France's Le Monde newspaper reported attending a background interview with a British official who used the word "extreme" and "extremist" no less than 10 times to describe Paris' unbending stance against war.

This is hardly the first cross-Channel spat in recent months. Chirac himself told Blair he was "badly brought up" last winter, after the British prime minister exploded on the news of a French-German backroom deal on EU agricultural subsidies.

In recent weeks, French diplomats, pundits and reporters have largely — but not completely — opted for the high road in responding to being dubbed "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," "worms" and other Iraq-related epithets in Britain and the United States.

But in its editorial Thursday, Le Monde drew smug comfort in Blair's plummeting popularity for siding with Washington's push for war.

"Tony Blair should draw lessons," the newspaper wrote, referring to the defection by Labor MPs during the British parliament's vote to wage war on Iraq. "He accuses Jacques Chirac of preferring 'rivalry over partnership,' with the Bush team."

"But (Blair's) defeat comes especially with the weakness of the arguments of George W. Bush, his moving objectives, and the influence exerted by the clan of unilateralist American hawks who have, throughout these last months, been the most obstinate opponents to Blair's multilateralist vision."

France is not being entirely slandered in the United Kingdom however. The French Embassy in London has reportedly received dozens of "vive-la-France" letters and postcards, from British supporters of its anti-war stance.

One, signed by a Martin from Birmingham, suggested de Villepin should move to 10 Downing St. and take over from Blair.

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