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U.K./U.S.: Iraq War Casts Shadow Over Chirac's Visit To Britain

  • Antoine Blua

French President Jacques Chirac began a two-day visit to Britain today to mark the 100th anniversary of the pact that ended centuries of hostility between the two countries. However, the issue of Iraq is still hanging over relations between the European powers. On the eve of his visit, Chirac, who fiercely opposed the Iraq war, suggested that the United States and Britain had made the world a more dangerous place with the invasion.

PRAGUE, Nov 18 (NCA/Antoine Blua) -- In an interview on BBC television aired yesterday evening, Chirac said the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime was "to a certain extent" a positive thing.

But the French president added that the war had further mobilized Islamic extremists.

"There is no doubt that there has been an increase in terrorism and one of the origins of that -- one -- has been the situation in Iraq. So I am not at all sure that one can say that the world is safer," Chirac said.

Chirac's statement came on the eve of a visit to Britain for an annual Anglo-French summit. Chirac is also set to attend events to mark the end of centenary celebrations of the "Entente Cordiale" -- the pact that ended centuries of warring and hostility between France and Britain.
The French president opposed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been among U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest allies on Iraq.


Jacques Leruez is associate researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) in Paris. He said Chirac wanted to show that his visit to the United Kingdom does not mean a change in his position on the Iraq war.

"[Chirac] wanted to show, to the French public mainly, that he has not renounced his positions on the Iraq war. He maintains that the situation in the Middle East has not improved, toward peace at least, since the Anglo-American intervention," Leruez said.

The French president opposed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been among U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest allies on Iraq.

Yves Boyer is deputy director of the French Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris. He said the issue of Iraq is still hanging over relations between the two countries.

"[Anglo-French] relations are complex, made up of a mix of hate and love like in an old couple," Boyer said. "Our history has recently been disturbed with the shift between [the French] and the Britons on the Iraq issue."

British newspapers criticized Chirac for reopening old wounds over Iraq on the eve of his official visit to London.

"The Guardian" said the visit could turn out to be the latest tempestuous installment of what the French president described earlier this week as a "stormy love affair."

The "Daily Express" said that Chirac had opened his trip to Britain with "a snipe at Blair" over Iraq, while the "Daily Mail" reported that Downing Street was trying to play down the "rift."

"The Times" of London said Chirac took "pains to ridicule" Blair's vision of building a bridge between Europe and America.

Analyst Boyer, however, said Chirac probably just wanted to reaffirm his position without seeking to offend anyone.

"It is good that at a moment when a kind of war of information is also going on, to recall the French position," Boyer said. "From the beginning we have said that one would open a Pandora's box if we intervened in Iraq in the way they did. Every leader has to explain his views. The French position is not the British one."

Besides Iraq and the Middle East, the summit is expected to touch upon Africa, climate change, and other concerns.

In the evening, Chirac will be the guest of Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle where "Les Miserables," a hit musical about 19th-century France, will be staged. The venue, the Waterloo Chamber, has been diplomatically renamed the Music Room for the night in an effort to avoid triumphalism over the 1815 defeat of France's Napoleon Bonaparte.

But the French newspaper "Le Figaro" said celebrating the Entente Cordiale in a "museum of Franco-English antagonism seems at first sight an unpardonable error of taste."

(Audio of French President Jacques Chirac courtesy of the BBC.)
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