Bush says Chirac a 'friend'

3rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 2 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush has reached out to France in an interview in which he calls President Jacques Chirac his "friend" and seeks to downplay the bitter divide over his decision to invade Iraq as an amicable debate.

PARIS, June 2 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush has reached out to France in an interview in which he calls President Jacques Chirac his "friend" and seeks to downplay the bitter divide over his decision to invade Iraq as an amicable debate.

The comments, to be published Thursday in the French magazine Paris Match, come just ahead of Bush's visit to France this weekend for commemorations marking the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, where Chirac will host an array of world leaders.

"I have never been angry with the French. France has long been an ally," Bush said in the interview, translated into French and made available to AFP ahead of publication.

On Iraq, he said, "I made a tough decision and not everybody agreed with that decision ... (but) friends don't always have to agree. Jacques told me clearly. He didn't believe that the use of force was necessary. We argued as friends."

When asked whether he would invite the French president to his ranch in his home state of Texas - a privilege accorded to few foreign leaders - Bush told Paris Match with a laugh: "If he wants to come to see some cows, he's welcome. He can come and see the cows."

Chirac later said he had never been "angry" with Bush despite their "divergence of views" on Iraq.

"One must not always believe what you hear in discussion or read in newspapers. I have never been angry with the US president and I've never felt in my relations with him that he was angry with me," he said during a press conference with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

The differing views the two leaders had on Iraq were "normal," Chirac said. "Everyone has their own conviction. I've always stated mine without any agressiveness."

The US president also said that he did not consider all the Iraqis fighting the US occupation to be "terrorists".

"The suicide bombers are, but the other fighters aren't. They just don't want to be occupied. Not even me, nobody, would want to be. That's why we're giving them their sovereignty. We are guaranteeing them complete sovereignty from June 30," he said.

Washington slammed France for its role in leading international opposition to the Iraq war, with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissing it as part of an "old Europe" while French companies were excluded from reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

Washington's promises of restoring Iraqi sovereignty meanwhile have come under scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic.

The French newspaper Le Monde said: "We cannot speak ... of a transfer of 'full sovereignty'," and suggested that the White House was now "desperately seeking diplomatic, financial and military support" as it tried to extricate itself from a country that had become increasingly anti-American.

And the New York Times said the continued presence of nearly 140,000 American troops in Iraq, as well as US diplomats in Iraqi ministries, will doubtless keep "significant power" in US hands.

The paper quoted a UN diplomat as saying: "It's a charade. ... The problem is that you need a charade to get to the reality of an elected government next January. There's no other way to do this."

Bush's wife, Laura, contributed to the US charm offensive on France by giving an interview to state television network France 2 in which she also stressed that the two countries were "friends".

"Yes, we had our differences over the war in Iraq. But we have also worked together, we have worked together in Afghanistan. I think France will be with us in the reconstruction of Iraq, to help the Iraqis build democracy, to free themselves from the oppression of Saddam Hussein," she said, according to the channel's dubbed French translation of her remarks.

"I believe, I think that we will always remain friends, that our two countries will always be allies. I hope so."

The First Lady added that she thought that French animosity towards her husband came from not knowing him well enough.

"He deeply believes that freedom for all is important. I hope people see that in him. It's a hidden aspect in his character. He has a character that Americans are proud of: a strong personality, he's tough, independent, with a love of freedom. Those are American characteristics and my husband has them. I think the French have them, too."

© AFP

Subject: French news

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