Chirac revives role as international conciliator

18th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 18, 2006 (AFP) - Ahead of what is almost certainly his last attendance at the UN General Assembly, French President Jacques Chirac on Monday issued a wide-ranging appeal for conciliation and dialogue in a world where "tensions and imbalances are sharpening."

PARIS, Sept 18, 2006 (AFP) - Ahead of what is almost certainly his last attendance at the UN General Assembly, French President Jacques Chirac on Monday issued a wide-ranging appeal for conciliation and dialogue in a world where "tensions and imbalances are sharpening."

In an interview on Europe 1 radio, the 73-year-old president made a major gesture towards Iran — urging that referral of Tehran's nuclear programme to the UN Security Council wait upon new negotiations and declaring himself sceptical about the use of sanctions.

In the wake of the row over Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam, Chirac urged the world to "avoid everything that increases tensions between peoples or religions".

While seeing the pope's remarks as "part of a dialogue about cultures and civilisations which I also advocate", he said: "We must avoid any confusion between Islam, which is of course a respected and respectable religion, and radical Islamism."

The president also urged the Sudanese government to accept UN troops to resolve the crisis in Darfur province, and said France would propose an international conference on Lebanon to help raise funds for the country's post-war reconstruction.

On US President George W. Bush, who he is to meet in New York Tuesday, Chirac said, "We have a relationship which is inevitably one of equals, which is certainly not one of submission" — and on the decision to oppose the 2003 war on Iraq he said: "When I look at the situation I do not think I made a mistake."

President Chirac appears to have been buoyed by the high profile given to France's role in international efforts to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah — as well as by opinion polls which show a sharp recovery in his domestic popularity over the summer.

In the latest survey published by a national newspaper Sunday the president enjoys the "good opinion" of 38 percent of the public — up 11 points from July.

"He has discovered a new sense of purpose. The French realise how much he is in control of international dossiers. Compared to Sarkozy and Royal, there's no contest," an unnamed Chirac adviser told le Parisien newspaper.

Chirac is widely expected to leave office next May after presidential elections in which the two front-runners are Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the Socialist Ségolène Royal.

While his record on domestic matters after nearly 12 years in office often fares badly in polls, on foreign affairs the president scores better — his favourite themes of a "multipolar" world and the need for dialogue between civilisations striking a clear chord with the public.

According to newspaper reports Monday, Chirac has expressed private anger at the overtly pro-American policies of his potential successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who in a speech in Washington last week said that his friendship for the US had earned him criticism in France — "but I am proud of it. I lay claim to it."

Sarkozy also took clear aim at the way Chirac and the foreign minister Dominique de Villepin handled the run-up to the war in Iraq, saying: "I always prefer modest effectiveness to sterile grandiloquence. I want nothing of an arrogant France."

The left-wing Libération newspaper quoted Chirac as telling advisers that Sarkozy's speech had been "irresponsible" and "lamentable."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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