- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

A misunderstanding

The U.S. ambassador to France called French opposition to the Iraq war a “misunderstanding,” and the chief of staff of the French military says relations between Paris and Washington are as good as ever.

“There was a misunderstanding with France and the French,” Ambassador Craig Stapleton told the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (the Sunday Journal).

The dispute eroded relations to the point where Americans were boycotting French wine and calling French fries “freedom fries.” French President Jacques Chirac led the international opposition to the war.

Mr. Stapleton said, “It is true that our two governments have economic and political disagreements, but the coordination and work done together have helped overcome the differences.”

Mr. Stapleton said the two countries “have the same values and the same interests.”

He also thanked France for its offer of aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Gen. Henri Benetegeat met with Mr. Stapleton yesterday and told reporters that the political dispute of the two governments had no effect on military cooperation between the two countries.

“Our military ties have remained strong and many, independently of the political turbulence of the past three years,” he said.

Gen. Benetegeat last week visited Washington for a meeting with his counterpart here.

“This visit allowed me to officially resume relations that never ended but which not have gone back to the level of before the Iraq crisis,” he said.

Arabist in Israel

As soon as he landed in Tel Aviv, U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones faced questions from the local press about his failure to speak Hebrew and his general lack of knowledge about Israel.

“I am not familiar with Israel, but I plan to study the country as soon as possible,” he told Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. “This is my fourth term in the region, and I come with a desire to learn.”

Mr. Jones, who speaks Arabic, French, German and Russian, also promised to learn Hebrew. His predecessor, Daniel Kurtzer, spoke Israel’s language.

The new ambassador presented his credentials yesterday to Yitzhak Eldan, Israel’s protocol chief, at the airport and later to President Moshe Katsav.

Mr. Jones was most recently the senior adviser on Iraqi issues to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He served as ambassador to Kuwait from September 2001 to July 2004. He was ambassador to Kazakhstan from 1998 to 2001 and ambassador to Lebanon from 1996 to 1998.

He also served two tours at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

Fear in the Philippines

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines feared that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would be overthrown in a military coup as early as May of this year, according to a report Sunday in Manila’s Inquirer newspaper.

The report quoted an intelligence assessment written on April 15 by Joseph Mussomeli, the former U.S. charge d’affaires who is now ambassador to Cambodia.

“The broad support that Macapagal-Arroyo enjoyed following her inauguration last year has faded, and the public frustration with the economy, corruption and stalled efforts at reform have taken their toll on her standing,” he wrote.

Mr. Mussomeli said the embassy’s defense attache learned that “elements from all four services … intended to intimidate Macapagal-Arroyo into resigning.”

“Rumors are rampant but vague, though the latest have officers moving against Macapagal-Arroyo as soon as May 2005,” he wrote.

“Political infighting, social disorder and, above all, economic uncertainty have left the Filipinos increasingly anxious about the direction their country is taking,” Mr. Mussomeli said.

The embassy would not comment on the Inquirer report.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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