- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

PARIS — While applauding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call for a new chapter in trans-Atlantic relations, French politicians and pundits cautioned yesterday against premature optimism.

Senior officials stressed that France remained committed to the concept of a “multipolar world with several centers of power” in which the United States would be treated as a partner and not the leader.

The influential liberal daily Le Monde commented that France “rejects the idea that American-type democracy should be imposed throughout the world.”

The conservative daily Le Figaro used Miss Rice’s keynote address in Paris on Tuesday as an opportunity to point out that major differences on key issues such as Iran remained between Washington and Europe and that the concept of a “new departure” in trans-Atlantic relations will need more tangible effort.

Jacques Andreani, a former French ambassador to Washington, praised Miss Rice’s delivery and conduct, but concluded that “in substance, there was nothing new at all” in her speech.

Miss Rice spoke to a star-studded audience at the prestigious Institute of Political Studies in Paris. The importance of her call for a new “crusade for freedom” was bolstered by the announcement of a truce between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, regarded as a major breakthrough in the Middle Eastern tug of war.

French officials pointed out that Europeans are just as eager for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict as the Americans and suggested that the best way to deal with the problem was by strict trans-Atlantic cooperation.

Echoing this view, Le Figaro wrote that such cooperation would be enhanced by the fact that “Europe has solid assets, including its influence in a number of Arab countries.”

“The United States appears to think that freedom solves everything, but it is not so easy,” said former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, one of the authors of the European Constitution.

European diplomats attached considerable importance to the decision that President Bush’s first foreign visit in the second term is going to be to Europe later this month. Some said recent statements by members of the Bush administration indicate that Washington “is prepared to live with the European Union rather than snipe at it.”

Officials in the EU headquarters in Brussels described Miss Rice’s Paris speech as “an unquestionable willingness to bury past quarrels but also a desire [by Washington] to remain the self-appointed leader of democratic nations.”

To Michel Chifres, a conservative commentator, the latest developments show that “it is time to finish with provocative phrases, add water to everyone’s wine because continuation of the crisis served no one.”

An opinion poll by the German Marshall Fund showed there were fewer divergences between American and European views on foreign affairs, but that in France, 65 percent of the people opposed the concept of U.S. leadership in world affairs.

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