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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
France languishes in US bad books
BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online

The US is deciding whether to punish France for its opposition to war in Iraq, just as Paris begins an effort to end the crisis in relations with Washington.

Jacques Chirac and George Bush
Officials say "special enmity" is now reserved for Jacques Chirac
While French officials like to argue that it is all right for friends to disagree, their arguments are not widely accepted in Washington.

Doves in the US state department are already trying to re-build bridges with some anti-war countries in Europe but "special enmity" is reserved for French President Jacques Chirac, the Washington Post reported this week.

The hawks, meanwhile, are out for revenge.

"I think France is going to pay some consequences, not just with us, but with other countries who view it that way," Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the senate last week.

Pentagon adviser Richard Perle told the International Herald Tribune that the crisis in relations was not something that could be dealt with in the "normal diplomatic way" because anti-French feeling now ran very deep in US society.

He said he doubted there could ever be a constructive relationship between the two governments.

Nato punishment plan

Experts say the rift between the two countries is greater than any since 1966, when General Charles de Gaulle forced US troops out of France and pulled French troops out of Nato.

Mr Perle has suggested that France could now be thrust even further towards the sidelines of the alliance.

When France was blocking Nato moves to shore up Turkey's defences in February during the run-up to the Iraq war, the decision was eventually made not by Nato's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, but by the Defence Planning Committee on which France does not sit.

Mr Perle's idea is that more decisions should now be made without French involvement.

There have also been suggestions that France could be frozen out of contracts to rebuild Iraq.

The US congress, for its part, has proposed a ban on US participation in this year's Paris Air Show in June - though this would be unpopular with US defence industries.

The Pentagon is still considering whether to take part.

French pragmatism

US diplomats, however, describe attempts to take revenge on France as "majorly stupid".

The US Ambassador to France, Howard Leach, told French television on Saturday that he hoped French people would not listen to Mr Perle, whom he described as a "private citizen".

Officials say the state department wants to move forward and focus on future co-operation and is arguing for a more measured response.

France took its first major step to heal the rift on Tuesday, when President Chirac called his US counterpart George W Bush.

He said that Paris would play a "pragmatic" role in Iraq despite its preference for the UN, rather than the US, to run the country until the establishment of a new Iraqi administration.

US officials have suggested that this kind of conciliatory approach could help to mend fences - or at least that the absence of such a rapprochement will make it worse.

Oil exports

They have been sending the same message to Russia - that their role in rebuilding Iraq will be influenced by their attitude.

The key, say the officials, is not to focus on "ideological issues" such as a leading role for the UN, but helping to solve problems.

One of the first of these, from the US perspective, is ending the UN sanctions on Iraq, so that Iraqi oil can begin to flow again.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has indicated that Moscow is opposed to such a move until it is proved that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction.

Jacques Myard, a member of the French parliament's foreign affairs committee from Mr Chirac's governing party, told the BBC on Thursday that he did not think France would obstruct such a move.

However, he emphasised that France was still keen to avoid any step that would "legitimise" the US-led war.


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