- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

From combined dispatches

LONDON — French President Jacques Chirac said in a newspaper interview yesterday that Britain has gained nothing from its support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Chirac said he had urged Britain before the invasion to press President Bush to revive the Middle East peace process in return for London’s support.

“Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see much in return,” Mr. Chirac was quoted as saying in the London Times. “I am not sure that it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favors systematically.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s staunch support for Washington on Iraq led to bitter divisions within his ruling Labor Party and dragged down his public approval ratings.

Mr. Chirac, who will hold talks with Mr. Blair when he makes a state visit to Britain tomorrow, recalled a Franco-British summit last year when he asked Mr. Blair to try to influence U.S. policy on the Middle East.

“I said then to Tony Blair: ‘We have different positions on Iraq. Your position should at least have some use’ — that is to try to obtain in exchange a relaunch of the peace process in the Middle East.”

Mr. Chirac questioned whether Britain could act as a bridge between the United States and Europe to help heal the rift that developed over the Iraq war. France and Germany were among the most vocal opponents of U.S. military action to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“I am not sure with America as it is these days that it would be easy for someone, even the British, to be an honest broker,” Mr. Chirac was quoted as saying in the Times.

Despite critical comments by Mr. Chirac and other French officials, both U.S. and French officials say patching up relations will be a priority for both countries in Mr. Bush’s second term.

Among the Bush administration’s first foreign visitors after the election was Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the diplomatic adviser to Mr. Chirac, who met National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice last week.

“In my second term, I will work to deepen our trans-Atlantic ties with the nations of Europe,” Mr. Bush said Friday during a joint press conference with Mr. Blair in Washington. “We must apply the combined strength and moral purpose of Europe and America to effectively fight terror and to overcome poverty and disease and despair, to advance human dignity and to advance freedom.”

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