Blair, Chirac invent 'cordial trust'

25th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Nov 24 (AFP) - The leaders of Britain and France drew a line under their bitter falling out over Iraq on Monday, declaring a new era of "cordial trust" to be crowned in 2004 by not one, but two royal trips to the other side of the English Channel.

LONDON, Nov 24 (AFP) - The leaders of Britain and France drew a line under their bitter falling out over Iraq on Monday, declaring a new era of "cordial trust" to be crowned in 2004 by not one, but two royal trips to the other side of the English Channel.

At a day-long summit in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac said they would not allow NATO - the linchpin of transatlantic defence - to be undermined by ambitious plans by the European Union to develop its own military muscle.

Indeed, they agreed to propose the setting up of pocket-sized EU military units of 1,500 men each, capable of racing out to global hotspots - at the United Nations' request - in 15 days or less to hold the fort before a proper UN peacekeeping force can be deployed.

But in a significant gesture, Blair and Chirac agreed that Queen Elizabeth II would visit France twice within three months next year - something that would not have been possible at the start of this year when they were bitterly at odds over Iraq.

The monarch is first to go to France on April 5-7 to make the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, the 1904 agreement that ended Franco-British colonial rivalry and laid the cornerstone for their alliance against Germany in World War I.

Chirac will make a return state visit to Britain about six months later. At a joint press conference, Blair announced that Chirac also invited the queen to return for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in Normandy, northern France, on June 6.

"That will be another opportunity to demonstrate our common history and common values," said Blair.

It also virtually compels US President George W. Bush - who resents Chirac for trying to block the US and British invasion of Iraq at the United Nations - to attend the same event as well.

The White House has yet to confirm if he will attend, though the D-Day anniversary falls around the same time as a NATO summit in Istanbul, an EU-US summit in Dublin and a Group of Eight summit in Atlanta, Georgia.Bush was in London last week for the first state visit ever accorded by Britain by a US president.

Flanked by stylish logos to mark the Entente Cordiale centenary, Blair and Chirac - who still looked a bit stiff in front of the cameras, though Blair spoke French to his guest away from the microphone - talked up trust.

Chirac said he wanted the coming year to be a period of what he termed in French "confiance cordiale" - which interpreters at the press conference called "cordial confidence," but more accurately means "cordial trust".(Entente Cordiale means cordial understanding.)

"If we try and work together as partners, but we don't trust each other, then we are likely to fail," Chirac said. "When we do trust each other, then we find a solution - it's as simple as that."

On what could have been the day's thorniest issue, Blair and Chirac reaffirmed the commitment they made at their Saint Malo, France summit in December 1998 to boost defence ties within Europe.

Chirac went out of his way to insist that "France does not have a problem with NATO" even though it still refuses to be part its armed forces under NATO's military command structure.

"Neither the Germans nor the French wish in the slightest way to take any initiative which will be in contradiction with NATO which, as the prime minister has said, is the mainstay of European defence," he said.

Blair seemed reassured that a Franco-German initiative to set up a seperate EU military planning facility, probably in Brussels, that would function independently of NATO - where the top generals are American - would not turn out to rival the transatlantic alliance, as the Bush administration fears.

"There is nobody I know of in Europe who wants to see European defence go forward at the expense of NATO," said the prime minister, who was meeting later Monday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar."NATO will remain the cornerstone of our defence."

© AFP

Subject: French news



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