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U.S./France: Powell Warns Of 'Consequences' For Paris Over Iraq Policy

  • Joel Blocker

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned France that it faces what he called "consequences" for trying to block the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. His remark suggested to observers on both sides of the Atlantic that the United States intends to punish France for what it considers Paris's obstructionism on Iraq and, more generally, its anti-American behavior. RFE/RL's Paris correspondent Joel Blocker spoke with French analysts about what form these consequences might take.

Paris, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In a television interview on 22 April, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked whether France's behavior in the run-up to the U.S.-British campaign in Iraq would have consequences. His answer was a blunt "yes."

The "yes" resounded strongly in Paris. Some officials said France had been unfairly singled out for its opposition to the war in Iraq, while Germany and Russia -- which also opposed the war -- were not publicly castigated. They also said Franco-American relations had improved since President Jacques Chirac initiated a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush 10 days ago (15 April).

That 20-minute conversation, including translation, was characterized by French officials as "positive." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the talk "businesslike."

The next day, Fleischer sought to play down the new Franco-American difficulties. He said President George W. Bush believes the two countries and peoples have common values and that their alliance will continue. But Fleischer also said that France's opposition to the war has put "a strain on the [Franco-American] relationship and that's a consequence that was paid."

Further consequences were discussed at a high-level White House meeting on 21 April led by Stephen Hadley, deputy to Bush's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Officials from the State and Defense departments as well as a representative of Vice President Dick Cheney, also attended the meeting.

Among the possibilities discussed at the meeting were the exclusion of France from some international meetings and bypassing the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political arm. That would effectively exclude France from U.S. deliberations with European and Canadian allies within the alliance because France is not a member of NATO's Defense Planning Committee, where the talks would be shifted. No final decisions, however, have been taken.

For some French analysts, relations between the two countries have been rapidly evolving since the Baghdad fell on 9 April. Etienne de Durand of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) put it this way to RFE/RL: "We are witnessing, on both sides, a rapidly evolving situation, which makes it difficult to draw any final conclusions. On both sides, there are contradictory signs. On the French side, in my view, there is a clear effort to ease tensions, compared to the situation before the war. In more long-range terms, I think, nonetheless, that there will be sanctions, reprisals taken by the United States."

De Durand believes the reprisals will not take place in the commercial and economic areas where, he says, many wrongly expect them. He notes that France is a member of the European Union and that it would be very difficult to impose economic sanctions on Paris without also inflicting damage on other EU members who are allies of the United States, including Britain.

Rather, de Durand believes, the sanctions are more likely to occur in political and military affairs. In these areas, particularly military cooperation, Paris and Washington have direct bilateral relations whose suspension, he says, could damage France. He cites, as one example among many, U.S. aid to France in aeronaval training.

Another French analyst, Bruno Tertrais of the Foundation for Strategic Research, also thinks U.S. reprisals are likely to come in the military area. Tertrais blames this on the civilian leadership of the U.S. Defense Department.

"I have a strong feeling that the Pentagon -- and when I say 'the Pentagon' I mean its civilian leadership -- is really looking for ways to inflict great damage on France because of its position [on Iraq]," Tertrais said. "As I understand it, there is a real will to reduce to a minimum contacts between the Pentagon and the French military."

But Tertrais does not believe the reprisals will last very long. He says that bilateral cooperation in military as well as other areas helps both countries. He doubts as well that France can be effectively bypassed in NATO deliberations by shifting them to its Defense Planning Committee, where France is not present. He says that the council, which includes all member states, takes the most important NATO decisions.

Both de Durand and Tertrais note France has made what they consider significant conciliatory gestures in the past two weeks. They include agreeing to suspend the UN economic sanctions on Iraq -- although the United States is seeking to abolish them entirely. And some high French officials say that Paris is now "open" to a possible NATO role in peacekeeping and reconstruction in Iraq.

French officials describe these actions as "pragmatic." Chirac used the same word in his 15 April telephone chat with Bush when he promised France would "act in pragmatic manner" on the question of Iraq's reconstruction.

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