- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

The leaders of the world’s eight biggest industrial democracies, known as the Group of Eight begin a three-day summit today in Evian-les-Bains, France.

As the G-8 leaders discuss the world economy, globalization and other issues, many observers are expected to focus on the personal chemistry between President Bush and France’s President Jacques Chirac, looking for signs of a thaw in the strained U.S.-French relationship.

Mr. Bush has said France’s position on the Iraq war appeared anti-American to some people.

He and other senior U.S. government officials were particularly disappointed by France’s efforts to delay providing defensive NATO aid to Turkey, prevent the United States from obtaining a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and develop a Franco-German-Russian axis to contain U.S. power.

The French government maintains that it opposed the war, not the United States, and that it wants to help Washington win the peace in Iraq. Paris also notes that it gave the U.S. overflight rights and intelligence information.

Bush-Chirac relationship

On April 25, Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac held their first conversation in more than two months after Mr. Chirac telephoned in an effort to begin patching up relations.

France is seeking to repair the rift in its relations with the Bush administration while continuing to pursue a fiercely independent, neo-Gaullist foreign policy intended to create a stronger Europe that is a counterweight to the United States.

Prior to the Iraq crisis, Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac were said to have a good personal relationship, but those ties became severely strained after France led opposition to the Iraq war.

According to Guillaume Parmentier — director of the French Center on the United States at the French Institute of International Relations and a professor at the University of Paris II — Mr. Chirac “is unquestionably the French president who most knows and admires U.S. society, and is famous for not bearing grudges.”

But, Mr. Parmentier added, “I believe that he finds it particularly difficult to communicate with the Bush administration, in sharp contrast with his friendly and direct relationship with President Clinton.”

The French government recently delivered a letter to the U.S. government saying that there has been an “organized campaign” to discredit France in the U.S. media.

Punishing France

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said that France will suffer unspecified consequences for its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Some members of Congress have called for trade sanctions and other punitive measures against France, although none of the measures has become law.

In addition, the U.S. military has curtailed exchange programs and armaments cooperation with France, and has reduced its representation at the Paris Air Show, which begins June 15.

Meanwhile, some Americans are boycotting French products, especially wine, and many have expressed anger about France’s opposition to the Iraq conflict.

Most French people like and admire the United States but strongly oppose the Iraq war and what they perceive as unilateral foreign policies of the Bush administration.

Mr. Parmentier, of the French Institute for International Relations, said that although French anti-Americanism “is unquestionably the preserve of small and isolated groups in France,” a large segment of the French population has great difficulty relating to the policies, demeanor and attitude of the Bush administration.

For example, he said, “though there was enormous support for the U.S. in France after 9/11, many Frenchmen saw statements such as ‘wanted dead or alive,’ though understandable, as strange coming from a head of state.”

Cooperation on terrorism

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bradtke has said that U.S.-French cooperation on law enforcement and intelligence might suffer as a result of France’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

Experts on terrorism say that curtailing U.S.-French cooperation in these areas would be self-defeating and that close U.S.-French cooperation is critical to winning the war on terror.

In addition, France has close historical ties with and knowledge of the politics and culture of the Middle East and the Maghreb, North Africa. This experience gives France unique insights into the sources of terrorism and makes it an important bridge between the Muslim world and the West.

On May 5, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft became the first senior U.S. official to visit France since the start of the recent tensions.

Mr.Ashcroft visited Paris to attend a meeting of G-8 justice ministers. During his visit, the United States and France agreed to co-chair a G-8 working group to develop biometric technologies used for identification and travel documents.

France is host to this year’s G-8 summit because it holds the group’s rotating presidency. The United States will hold the G-8 presidency next year.

The G-8 consists of Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Postwar tensions

Tensions between the United States and France have continued in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, particularly about what role the United Nations should have in postwar Iraq.

On May 9, the United States, Britain and Spain introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to lift economic sanctions on Iraq and endorse U.S.-British occupation of Iraq and control of its oil. U.N. sanctions were imposed in 1990 and prevented Iraq from selling its oil on world markets except through an oil-for-food program.

On May 22 the Security Council approved the resolution in a 14-0 vote, with Syria absent. The lifting of the U.N. sanctions allows the use of Iraqi oil income to help pay for the country’s reconstruction and other needs.

From May 9-22, numerous revisions were made to the resolution, including provisions increasing the role of a U.N. special representative in Iraq and leaving the door open to a U.N. role in certifying that Iraq no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.

France had wanted the United Nations to have a much greater role in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq but voted in favor of the resolution.

The issue of contracts to rebuild Iraq and its oil-production facilities had also been a point of contention between the United States and France.

The resolution that was approved said that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will review the outstanding contracts and determine which ones are in the interest of the Iraqi people and should be honored.

Cooperation and competition

Historians note that U.S.-French relations have involved both cooperation and competition since the U.S. revolutionary period when France helped the United States achieve its independence.

The competitive aspects of the relationship are largely related to the fact that both countries see themselves as representing alternative political and philosophical models for the world.

University of Pittsburgh professor Michael Brenner said recent tensions between the United States and France about Iraq are rooted in their contrasting world views, both of which were shaped by the age of enlightenment.

“Each proclaims a creed of liberty and democracy that is avowedly universal,” he said. “In this they share a conviction that their international behavior is enlightened, serving the greater good of the world community as a whole. It is this very belief that aggravates frictions such as those over Iraq policy, insofar as leaders believe strongly that their diplomacy is charting the course of virtue.”

Experts on U.S.-French relations also note that working relations between military and intelligence services of the two countries remain cordial and productive, even during periods when governmental relations are strained.

For example, French and American troops and officers continued to work together closely in Afghanistan throughout the Iraq crisis.

French solidarity

Specialists often point out that France has always stood in solidarity with its oldest ally, the United States, when the stakes are high. The two examples cited most often are the Berlin crisis of 1958-62 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

During those years, France was led by President Charles de Gaulle, who was highly critical of U.S. Vietnam policy and what he saw as U.S. military domination of Europe.

The current rift between Washington and Paris is widely acknowledged to be the worst since Mr. de Gaulle withdrew French forces from NATO’s integrated military command in 1966.

Former U.S. government analyst Stanley Sloan, who is a visiting scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, said differences between U.S. and French priorities have profoundly influenced the evolution of trans-Atlantic relations from NATO’s creation until today.

In the Bush administration’s view, France’s opposition to the Iraq conflict makes it hard for the United States to trust France and calls into question whether that country is loyal to the United States.

In France’s perspective, a loyal ally is one that offers constructive criticism about issues of common concern.

Sidelining France

A number of proposals to sideline France are reportedly being discussed within the U.S. government as part of a re-evaluation of policy toward France.

For example, the U.S. Senate recently passed a measure that requires Mr. Bush to consult with other NATO leaders during the next 18 months about dropping the requirement for alliance decisions to be made unanimously.

Such a change would require a revision of NATO’s founding charter, signed in Washington in 1949, which would require French approval.

There have also been calls for NATO to make greater use of the Defense Planning Committee, in which France has not participated fully since leaving NATO’s integrated command structure in the 1960s.

Such proposals might be counterproductive, specialists say, because France is a key player in Europe and within NATO.

Middlebury’s Mr. Sloan said, “NATO is, and will likely remain, an organization of sovereign nations, and no system in which any member could be outvoted by the others is likely to win acceptance on either side of the Atlantic.”

He added that “U.S.-European relations simply do not work very well when the U.S. and France are at loggerheads. Objectively speaking, both U.S. and French interests would be served by quickly moving beyond the recent differences over Iraq.”

Mr. Parmentier, of the University of Paris, concurred: “It is in the U.S. interest to be seen in Europe as being broad-minded. Otherwise, this will strengthen the position of those in Europe and in France who believe that the trans-Atlantic relationship is beyond repair and that we need to build Europe as a counterpower.”


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