France Says It Was Victim of Lies Fed by White House (NY Times)

PARIS (IPS)–France is seeking new cooperation with the U.S. and Britain while maintaining its diplomatic independence by supporting multilateral forums like the United Nations.

To further these goals, Paris recently announced that it would support suspension of the UN embargo against Iraq, partially giving in to U.S. demands.


But Jean-March de la SabliŽre, French ambassador to the UN, said that the lifting of the embargo should be “linked to the certification of the disarmament of Iraq” by the UN Security Council, which the U.S. opposes.

At the same time, French diplomats are stressing their “friendship and alliance” with Washington in response to recent U.S. threats that France will have to pay a heavy economic and political price for having opposed the war against Iraq.

President George Bush said bluntly in an interview that President Jacques Chirac would not be visiting his ranch in Texas for some time. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a television interview earlier that the French opposition to the war against Iraq is affecting bilateral affairs, and that the U.S. would review “all aspects of relations with France.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said: “Punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia.”

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin insists in the face of these remarks that France and the United States are allies and friends.

“You cannot punish friendship, you cannot punish respect for international legal principles, and you cannot punish France for having defended these principles all through the Iraqi crisis,” Mr. De Villepin said.

The French government wants to take a pragmatic position in the post-war situation in Iraq, he said. “France has two priorities in Iraq: first, to respond to the humanitarian emergency, and second, to lift the embargo.” But, he added, “only the UN can sanction the end of the embargo.”

His emphasis on the importance of the UN is seen as an attempt to preserve the chief source of French weight in international affairs–its permanent membership on the UN Security Council.

“We have neither the economic nor the military weight to influence the course of world affairs,” says Aymeric Chauprade, who teaches geopolitics at the French War College. “Only the UN Security Council gives French diplomacy a certain leverage.”

French officials point with satisfaction to U.S. indications in recent days that it will not boycott France. The U.S. government cancelled a meeting called earlier to consider such sanctions.

But despite efforts to play down bilateral tensions, French and U.S. positions remain wide apart on several issues.

The U.S. government also continues to oppose a new mandate for the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq demanded by France.

Officials say here that the inspectors under Hans Blix could certify that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, the justification cited by the U.S. for the attack on Iraq with its heavy loss of life.

Several reports indicate meanwhile that U.S. officials have encouraged an unofficial embargo on French goods. White House general secretary Andrew Card recently said on his Internet site that “wine from Virginia is good enough for me.”

French businesses are worried. “U.S. consumers can send their complaints to our embassy, but they should please continue consuming our goods,” says Ernest Antoine Seilliere, president of the French Movement of Enterprises. “They should respect the market.”

Pierre Hassner, research director at the Center of Studies for International Relations and the National Foundation of Political Sciences, says: “Diplomatically, France cannot give up before the United States, especially not after the scandalous campaign of insults and threats it has been subjected to. But France cannot also play the offended one and disappear from the international scene.”

At the same time, he said, “France cannot place unreal demands, such as the demand for an interim UN government in Iraq, or engage in doubtful alliances with Russia or Syria.”