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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
France complains of US 'smears'
French Ambassador to Washington Jean-David Levitte
Ambassador Levitte wants the campaign to stop

The French ambassador to the United States is sending a letter to US Congress complaining about media "bias" against France.

Jean-David Levitte's letter contains a list of nine "false" stories which have appeared in the American media, an embassy spokeswoman told BBC News Online, as well as an annex.

She said Paris wanted this campaign to stop - and the congressmen not to give credence to the stories.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, French officials believe the stories were spread by people from within the Bush administration itself.

In recent weeks, top US officials have said France will suffer consequences for its strong opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.

But a senior official quoted by the Washington Post dismissed the French allegations as "utter nonsense".

'False' stories listed

In the run-up to the war in Iraq, and during the conflict, there were numerous calls in the US for a boycott of French goods. Similar calls for a boycott of American goods were made in France.

Since the rift over Iraq, many Americans now eat "freedom fries"

French fries became "freedom fries" and the French were labelled "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".

But BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says allegations of a campaign of disinformation by elements within the administration are more serious.

The "false" stories mentioned in the letter reportedly include:

  • Allegations that France and Germany had in 1998 supplied Iraq with switches used in detonating nuclear weapons

  • A report quoting an "American intelligence source" saying that France possessed prohibited strains of the smallpox virus

  • A report accusing two French companies of selling Iraq spare parts for planes and helicopters

  • Several stories about sales of components for long-range missiles, radar equipment and fighter planes

  • Allegations that French officials in Syria had helped Iraqi leaders wanted by the US flee to Europe by giving them French passports

The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"Despite the smiles, this is not a happy couple"

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