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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 February, 2005, 19:56 GMT
New start for US and 'old Europe'
By Penny Spiller
BBC News

Bush and Chirac after talks at the G8 summit in Evian in 2003
Despite attempts at friendship, Franco-US relations have been cool
When the new US secretary of state arrived in France this week, she said it was "time to turn away from the disagreements of the past".

Her conciliatory tone was a far cry from those days in 2003 when France led European opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Then, Ms Rice - as National Security Adviser - reportedly told President George W Bush to "punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia".

She was not the only one in the Bush administration who gave France and Germany short shrift.

In March 2003, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outraged the two countries when he told reporters: "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe."

'Worm' Chirac

France's position on Iraq so incensed some Americans, even its famous fries came in for a bashing.

In February 2003, Cubbie's diner in Beaufort, North Carolina, re-named its French fries "freedom fries" to show "support for our troops".

George W Bush with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac at Colleville in June 2004
The D-Day commemorations offered a chance to rebuild ties

A month later, cafeterias in the House of Representatives followed suit in a protest led by Republicans.

Even the British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, waded in by branding French President Jacques Chirac a "worm".

"You were only too happy to welcome the Americans when France was crushed under Hitler's boot," the paper lambasted.

Mr Chirac did not flinch. "To act without the legitimacy of the United Nations, to favour the use of force over law, is taking a serious responsibility," he warned in March 2003.

And he stressed that France would not approve a UN resolution "giving the American and English belligerents powers over the administration of Iraq."

I know a lot of people are wondering whether or not we can sit down and have a comfortable conversation... the answer is 'absolutely'.
President Bush in June 2003

The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, asked on the eve of war: "Does the scale of the threat from the Iraqi dictator justify the launch of a war that will certainly bring death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer in this case has been and remains: No."

Their stance won popular support among millions of people across Europe.

Handshakes and back-slaps

As war became imminent and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair found himself in the middle of a US-Europe rift, he warned that it was vital "to find a way afterwards of putting this back together on a sound basis for both us".

"The alternative is this concept of rival poles of power in the world and that is a profoundly dangerous concept," he said.

Condoleezza Rice speaking at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris
It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance
Condoleezza Rice

Following the end of US-led military operations in Iraq, Mr Bush and Mr Chirac made a show of friendship with handshakes and slaps on the back in June 2003 at the G8 summit in the French town of Evian.

"I know there are a lot of people in both our countries wondering whether or not we can actually sit down and have a comfortable conversation," Mr Bush told reporters. "And the answer is 'absolutely'."

But few were really convinced.

The strained state of relations between France the US was on everyone's minds when they came together to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day last June.

France's Liberation newspaper warned Mr Bush before his arrival in Normandy not to "place too much emphasis on the comparison between the intervention in Iraq and the liberation of Europe".

But among the leaders, it appeared to offer a good opportunity for bridge-building.

"France will never forget the debt of gratitude it owes to America, our constant friend," said President Chirac.

President Bush responded: "The nations which battled together across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great coalition is strong, and still needed today." The mood of reconciliation continues.

'Fresh start'

It is not without significance that Ms Rice chose Paris to make her first major speech on foreign policy as US secretary of state.

"It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance," she told an audience at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier also spoke of a fresh start.

"Dear Condi, I want to say publicly that my belief is that the world is better off when Americans and Europeans co-operate," he said at a joint press conference with Ms Rice.

It remains to be seen whether the US and "old Europe" will be good friends again.


SEE ALSO:
US reaches out to 'old Europe'
08 Feb 05 |  Europe
Conciliatory messages on D-Day
07 Jun 04 |  Europe
UN powers stall on Iraq future
13 Sep 03 |  Americas
'Freedom fries' lambasted in US
13 Mar 03 |  Americas


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