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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Q&A: US-French relations on ice

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned France that there will be consequences following its refusal to support military action against Iraq.

BBC News Online world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds looks at what those consequences might be and why:

What did Mr Powell actually threaten?

In an interview with public television in the United States, he said that now that the war was over "we have to take a look at the relationship. We have to look at all aspects of our relationship with France in light of this."

He was then asked by the interviewer Charlie Rose whether there would be "consequences for standing up to the United States like that" and he answered simply "yes" without elaboration.

So what might these "consequences" be?

There will be coolness in government-to-government contacts and an effort to isolate France in international diplomacy.

According to American officials, the Bush administration might downgrade its consultations with France by perhaps cutting France out of meetings with European allies.

Washington might also try to bypass the North Atlantic Council, the top decision-making body in Nato, on which France is represented, in favour of the Defence Planning Committee, which France does not attend. This procedure was used to send defensive weapons to Turkey before the Iraq war.

The idea would be to send a signal to the French that relations are in the freezer. President Chirac should not expect an invitation to the White House.

Could there be American trade or economic sanctions?

Unlikely at a government level because France is in the European Union and trade is handled at that level. France could not be singled out without EU retaliation.

It is possible that in some future trade dispute with the EU, in which extra duties might be levied on European products, French goods could suffer disproportionately, but that is not certain.

At a popular level, displeasure with France expressed by the US Government could help individual boycotts of French products and companies and encourage petty anti-French manifestations such as the renaming of "French fries" as "Freedom fries."

Will the US freeze France out of Iraqi reconstruction?

It will probably try to so long as it remains in control of Iraq and has influence there.

This could involve making life difficult for French companies trying to get contracts though in the final analysis, when Iraq is run by the Iraqis, such contracts will not be under US control.

Why pick on the French, since the Germans and Russians also opposed the US?

The US feels that it was the French who took the lead in preventing a second Security Council resolution authorising war and that France must therefore take the consequences.

The US expected opposition from Russia and even from Germany whose public opinion is still extensively pacifist.

France is also seen as opposing US influence in the world from a philosophical and cultural standpoint.

French actions have revived the hate element of the love-hate relationship the United States has with France.

Will France retaliate?

France will probably continue to oppose what its sees as the threat of US hegemony in the world.

In the short term, though, it has actually signalled a willingness to co-operate with the US over lifting sanctions on Iraq which remain in force under a previous Security Council resolution.

However, the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has also stood by his principles, saying: "France and a very large majority of the international community has acted throughout the Iraq crisis in accordance with its convictions and principles to defend international law."

Just how far President Chirac wants to spearhead an effort to oppose US influence is an open question.

Will it blow over?

In due course it will. The US and France regularly have their spats.

French support for the young United States in its fight for independence against Britain (French naval power was important in defeating the old French enemy) does not guarantee them special favours in Washington.

But this crisis will leave its mark for some time.

It will also contribute to a feeling in some quarters in the United States that the time has come to reduce ties with Europe, though of course, France is not Europe and there are other European countries which favour a strong American presence.




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