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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 09:56 GMT
Can the Franco-British rift be healed?
President Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair at an EU Summit in Barcelona, March 2002
Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Jacques Chirac are insisting on a strong sense of friendship between Britain and France in a summit aimed at improving tense relations.

Mr Chirac and Mr Blair are agreed that Iraq should be disarmed through the United Nations, but differences remain on how to achieve it.

Mr Chirac wants the weapons inspectors to be given more time - "I feel that war is always the worst possible solution. In that region above all others we don't want any more wars. We need to wait."

But Tony Blair favours the hardline US stance against Saddam Hussein, saying a second resolution is vital if military action is to be undertaken.

France's invitation to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to a Paris meeting next month is also under discussion at the summit in Le Touquet, along with immigration and defence.

Do you believe the warm and supportive relationship is really there between Britain and France? Can the talks improve diplomatic relations? Will the two men manage to maintain a truly better relationship?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Britain and France are on the same side

Chris Neville-Smith, Durham
A lot of people posting here seem to have forgotten that Britain and France are on the same side here. Both countries, along with most of the world, agree that Saddam needs to be disarmed, and the only disagreement is how to do it. If Blair and Chirac can't reach an agreement, it will play straight into Saddam Hussein's hands.
Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

Balancing ones national interests with those of the international community is an issue wealthy nations have had difficulty with for quite some time. The rift between the UK and France can, and will, be healed as they both agree what the end result needs to be. While it is favourable to arrive at a consensus as to what needs to be done in international affairs such as Iraq, this cannot always be the case. In such events actions are sometimes required that will cause differences between nations. Although it seems the only time we recognize action should have been taken is when history has shown us the evil that we are capable of. To avoid these evils, difficult decisions must be made to the best of our ability. At times the human race does not have the human capital to afford indefinite patience or the best hopes of men. At times action is required. To some, that time is now.
Ashley, USA

While I am by no means a supporter of Tony Blair, I have a lot of respect for the Prime Minister in not being afraid to stand up to other European leaders. In the past it has felt that Mr Blair would do anything to curry favour with continental Europe. However now, contrary to the views of a number of the contributors, the PM is standing up for British interests. Be in no doubt going to war with Iraq, and the ultimate removal of Saddam Hussein, is very much in the UK's interest in the long term. It is about time the liberals in this country woke up and realised that the middle eastern terror network is one of the most dangerous groups effecting the stability of the entire developed world.
Alan Brown, Scotland, UK

You can't expect countries like France or Germany to watch the US going to war without international consensus

Antoine Bonnin, France
As a French citizen I am amazed with some of the comments I read. First, Chirac didn't have a landslide election victory, people had to vote for him to stop the extremists (I call that a favour not a victory). Next, somebody had to step up against the American Will. You can't expect countries like France or Germany to watch the US going to war without international consensus (the UN is suppose to be the United Nations). And I hope more countries would do the same, for the sake of peace. I mean everybody is talking about War as a political issue; War is a social issue, which will bring death and desolation on Iraqi people. And after that, terrorism will become even stronger all over the world. I feel like people already forgot about 9/11, does anyone see what is going to happen if the US goes to War?
Antoine Bonnin, France

I cannot believe the citizens of the UK going on and on about how much they admire the French for standing up for their own interest and how they would be more respected if they did the same. It's crazy. You stand up for your interest and the interests of free people across the entire planet - you see the bigger picture. There is little to admire in the French position, except that intelligent people know they are the ones most interested in oil. I find it hard to believe how Europeans, and sometimes the good people in the UK, cannot see the forest through the trees. Your policies are right. France looks more and more these days like the fabled emperor with no clothes.
Michael, Los Angeles, CA US

I think it is admirable that France takes its own course and does not bow to pressure from the US or anyone else. Perhaps Blair could learn something from their example, and not continually parrot Bush and US foreign policies. I only hope that when the time comes, they are able to vote at the UN as to what they feel is right, and are not swayed by US rhetoric.
Dave P, England

If France didn't back military action when Iraqi forces were murdering innocent people I doubt they would do it now

J Casey, USA
I don't believe the rift over Iraq will be settled. PM Blair is taking a strong position on Iraq. Chirac is taking an ant-war stance. France in 1991 abstained from the UN to authorise force against Iraq. If France didn't back military action when Iraqi forces were murdering innocent people and occupying a country, I would highly doubt they would do it now. Therefore, I believe Tony Blair will attempt to get France to abstain from the vote. If France agrees, the rift will be significantly diminished.
J Casey, USA

What I deplore most is the difficulty of the UK and US to stick to the rule of UN. Of course, Chirac will send troops into Iraq, if the UN decides so, but why bother having the organisation, or the EU, if it is a case of everyone for himself and if it is to use international bodies only when they are useful? And why wait 10 years to deal with Saddam, having let him do the worst to his own people?
Eric Waton, France

So Chirac is guilty of selfishly putting his country first? Who is Blair putting first? It's not the UK, as British people do not support this threatened war on Iraq. It's not the US, as most Americans do not support it. It's not Iraq's neighbours, as they do not support it. It's not the Iraqi people as the UK and US have happily ignored Saddam Hussein in the past (with the US feeding him with chemical weapons). He is putting Bush's political ambition first, and secondly his own as a future world statesman.
Henry, UK

The fact that they claim to speak for 120 million people is just a measure of their vanity

Alex, England
I don't have a rift with France. Tony Blair has a rift with Jacques Chirac. The fact that they claim to speak for the 120 million or so people in Britain and France is just a measure of their vanity.
Alex, England

We need to be more tolerant (on each side). Speak less and listen more. According to what I have read here, it seems that the divide is not just between the leaders.
Albert, France

I doubt that most people in England will worry if the rift can't be healed. Our relationship with real friends such as the US is more important.
Keith, UK

Blair could learn a thing or two from the French

Andrew Myles, UK
Blair could learn a thing or two from the French when it comes to standing up for the national self interest. Chirac has won a landslide election victory and is keen to project his 'power' and influence on the world stage. France is no longer as important a world power as it likes to think it is and Blair should see through this act for the posturing that it is, safe in the knowledge that they will acquiesce in the end, as they always do.
Andrew Myles, UK

While there has never been a personal rift between myself and my French friends, to believe that there has ever been any real entente cordiale between the two nations would be ridiculous. If anything, the chasm is growing wider - a UK which already trades more with the international community (and gets hit hardest by the EU external trade tariff) and a France which continues to believe it offers a European lead on providing an alternative to the policies of the English speaking world. No change there then.
Christian Boulton, UK

It is to Chirac's credit that he sees fit to represent the interests of his own country rather than be a puppet of the US. Were it not for Blair's standpoint to both Europe and Britain, Bush would be going it alone in Iraq and consequently there would be no support for this adventure within the US. Unfortunately, Chirac knows that Bush will be able to make things very awkward for France after a victory in Iraq and he will probably have to climb down. Personally I regard this as a defeat for European independence rather than as a reconciliation.
Charles Moore, Scotland

Thank goodness that in this part of the world we can have such open differences

Ben, England
The prevailing attitude seems to be that an international rift between France and the UK is necessarily a bad thing. Thank goodness that in this part of the world we can have such open differences. It would be very bad if the USA received no opposition of any kind to its actions, whether or not it is pursuing the right policy. It should also be remembered that many people in the UK are as not convinced about the need for military action along with the French government. A war can never be right if it does not stand up under scrutiny and fierce opposition.
Ben, England

Unfortunately we have more in common with the Americans than we do with our European partners especially France. This means we end up favouring the view of the US over our European neighbours despite the fact that the European view is much more mature as a collective than the US particularly in terms of Iraq, Kyoto, Steel, Mid East Conflict, International Court of Justice etc. This is a historical legacy continued by both Conservatives and Labour and appears to stay for the foreseeable future. Sorry Chirac!

I really admire the French point of view. They put their own country first and disregard the rest. If we adopted their approach and stood up for our country as they do theirs, perhaps they would respect us more.
Kevin, England

This is not just French v UK. Most people miss the fact that there is now Europe. Chirac is taking a pro-EU, pro EU public-opinion stance and Blair sides with the Americans. To say that the rift is just between two countries is wrong. We now have a list of 8 countries, headed by Britain, that sees the EU only as a large trading group of isolated countries, while most of us believe in a united Europe. I hope that under no circumstances will Chirac bow to US pressures
Shaun, France

Isn't it surprising that France and the USA don't see eye to eye on more subjects? They both have a very narrow, blinkered view of the world and are guided by their own Nationalistic ideals. Perhaps it's a case of opposites repulsing. Or repulsive?
Bryan, UK

Of course they'll settle their differences - France, as usual, is all bluster but even they know where the bottom-line is.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK

I wish that the UK Government and its infrastructure was more like of France. They have a better health service, are more tolerant of public demonstrations, have a better equipped armed forces, a better way of life in general - even their motorway stops are better than most British restaurants in food, cleanliness and surroundings!
Prime Minister Tony Blair has got a lot to do to repair the rift that he has caused by standing shoulder to shoulder with President Bush's view that we should attack even without UN backing if necessary. France had taken the correct path by awaiting the evidence from the UN Weapons Inspectors.
Stephen Lynn, UK

Chirac and Blair are exactly at the frontier of two different conceptions of the world, the American and the European one. It's not a question of person. It's a question of power. Tensions will also not be solved by threat, but by discussion between civilised men inside the European Union. As such, they will be as a matter of course solved.
Joel, France

France will send troops and planes and bombs to Iraq

In international terms France always makes a fuss, throwing their hands in the air with the usual Gallic flourish, tries to cause a stir, and then backs down. Not only will the Franco-British rift be healed, France will send troops and planes and bombs to Iraq. It is just so predictable.

As good a statesman and diplomat that Tony Blair is, I doubt whether even he can overcome 800 years of jealousy and hostility.
Steve H, England

France should realise that it's only through true cooperation that any real progress will be made and the dreams of Europe realised. Despite what most people think, I'd say that the British are more European than the French and it is France that is becoming more isolated and irrelevant on the world stage.
James, Ex-pat, living in France

France might go some way to patching up its credibility on this side of the channel if it paid the compensation due to its three year illegal ban on British beef. In the meantime, British leaders would be well advised that agreements with France are not worth the paper they're written because they have a track record of only keeping to commitments when it suits them.
Neil, England

The unreasonable French position on Mugabe is very difficult to reconcile

Brennig Jones, England
I think it is important not to confuse France's reasonable position regarding extending weapons inspectors' time in Iraq with the unreasonable French position on Mugabe, which is very difficult to reconcile. France has considerable investment interests in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.

France has consistently demonstrated that it is interested in pursuing their national interest above all other things (remember the act of international terrorism that sank the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand and killed an innocent photographer?). We need close ties with France, but we should not treat their goals and objectives as our own.
Brennig Jones, England

See also:

04 Feb 03 | Politics
04 Feb 03 | Europe
02 Feb 03 | Middle East
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