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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Behind the French-US bonhomie
The BBC's Barnaby Mason
By Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent

At the G8 summit in the French town of Evian-les-Bains, President Jacques Chirac has had his first private talks with President George W Bush since leading European opposition to the Iraq war.

Presidents Jacques Chirac and George W Bush
Behind the smiles remain two very different attitudes
All eyes were focused on the meeting for clues to whether a soured relationship was on the mend.

The White House said the talks were cordial. The Elysee described them as warm and friendly, adding that it wanted to ensure that French-US relations were not prisoners of the past.

The two leaders appeared briefly in public before the meeting. Mr Bush said they could have disagreements without being disagreeable to each other. Mr Chirac wished him every success with his efforts to break the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Mr Bush left the summit almost a day early for the Middle East. The French could hardly complain since they and other Europeans have been urging him since he took office to get personally involved in the peace process.

What summit pictures reveal about post-war relationships

On Iraq, both sides say they are focused on the future, with the latest United Nations Security Council resolution providing the legal basis for post-war arrangements in Iraq.

However, the French emphasise when asked that they have not changed their mind in the slightest about their opposition to the war.

One French journalist here said: "Chirac thinks he was right, is right, and will be right."

French wishes

Mr Chirac remains a convinced multilateralist, and believes that Mr Bush is a unilateralist. His invitation to a dozen big non-G8 countries to join the summit for the first day of debate looked like an attempt to demonstrate the multipolar world in action.

There was plenty of talk about co-operation, but it is co-operation between people who see the world from entirely different points of view
The French would like to see the United States bound back into international structures like the G8.

But Mr Bush's attitude is that such organisations are instruments. If countries like France and Germany want to back American action, all well and good; if not, too bad.

French commentators see the American president as presenting his transatlantic agenda in the form of a list of demands addressed to European leaders.

The G8 agreed to deliver stern warnings to North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programmes. They described the spread of weapons of mass destruction, together with terrorism, as the pre-eminent threat to international security.

That is identical to Washington's view.

Questions raised

But it was striking that Mr Bush chose Poland, an American ally in the Iraq crisis, as the place to announce an important new initiative to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

That was the proposal to seek authority to intercept ships and aircraft suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

It was evidently not discussed with the French beforehand, and they have raised questions about the legal basis of such action and who should carry it out.

Mr Bush's most telling comment when he saw Mr Chirac was that a united Europe, working with America, could do a lot of good on fighting terrorism and weapons proliferation and in helping those who suffer.

In other words, Europe is welcome to help - but on America's terms.

The friendly arm around Mr Chirac's shoulders should be seen in that context.

There was plenty of talk about co-operation at Evian, but it is co-operation between people who see the world from entirely different points of view.

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