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France/U.S.: Analysts Say Relations Likely To Recover Over Time

France, which led the diplomatic fight against a military assault on Saddam Hussein's regime without United Nations approval, says U.S. President George W. Bush's latest ultimatum to Iraq goes against the will of the international community. RFE/RL reports about the prospects of reconciliation between Paris and Washington.

Paris, 18 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In a statement issued early today, the office of President Jacques Chirac said France does not support U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face military action. The French statement says that to shirk what it calls United Nations "legitimacy" for any military assault would put "might over right and take on a heavy responsibility."

Over the past few months, Chirac has led the diplomatic fight against any assault on Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council. On 10 March, the French leader publicly threatened to use France's veto power on the Security Council, if necessary, to block a second resolution that would have authorized military force if Hussein did not immediately disarm.

On 16 March, after a summit with the leaders of Britain and Spain in the Azores, Bush said that France had "revealed its cards" with its veto threat.

French-American relations, often difficult in the past, are now patently stormy.

Our correspondent spoke with two French analysts about the prospects for improving relations between Paris and Washington.

Both Jacques Beltran of the French Foreign Policy Institute and Bruno Tertrais of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research see a difficult time ahead in the near future but suggest that in the long or even medium term the trans-Atlantic storm will abate.

Beltran said he is optimistic about a bilateral reconciliation if the war in Iraq goes well for the United States and ends quickly. "If the crisis -- the war -- in Iraq goes off well, if it -- one can say -- ends quickly and in an efficient fashion, and we rapidly enter the reconstruction phase without major destabilization in Iraq, then I think that France and the United States -- those responsible on each side -- will have good reason to restore a relationship that is important for both of them. [That's] because behind France there are a number of countries [important for Washington], and for France, [good] relations with the United States are absolutely essential," Beltran said.

Nevertheless, Beltran is concerned that the current standoff could leave a lasting impression. He fears that when the next international crisis occurs -- one that is as difficult to resolve as Iraq has proven to be -- both countries will recall the current crisis and act "reflexively," with neither side trusting the other.

Analyst Tertrais said that, in the short term, French-American relations will be damaged, in no small part because of bad relations between Bush and Chirac. "There seems to be something almost personal between President Bush and President Chirac," he said. "It seems they don't talk over the phone to each other anymore. And I think that in Paris, the fact that France was singled out [by Bush] during the press conference after the Azores summit was very badly received, especially since in the [previous] weeks President Bush had, on the contrary, given signs of being willing to tone down the anti-French rhetoric of the U.S. administration's own policy pronouncements."

Tertrais thinks that in the longer run, French-American relations will recover, "as they have so often in the past." He said that in the last 48 hours, Paris has shown signs of seeking reconciliation with Washington.

He also said he does not expect the French economy or French-American commercial relations -- or their political and military relations -- to suffer lasting effects from the current crisis.