France dismisses 'rivalry' with US over Algeria

12th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

ALGIERS, July 12 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was to begin a visit to Algiers on Monday, one of a string of high-level trips by French leaders to the north African country in June and July.

ALGIERS, July 12 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was to begin a visit to Algiers on Monday, one of a string of high-level trips by French leaders to the north African country in June and July.  

Ahead of his arrival Monday evening, Barnier sought to deflect speculation in Algeria's lively independent press that the flurry of visits - Finance Minister Nicholas Sarkozy was here last month and Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will visit later this week - had anything to do with a spike in US interest in the former French colony.  

"The idea that there is a Franco-American rivalry over Algeria is as tenacious as it is erroneous," Barnier told Monday's edition of the newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran.   "The strengthening of our relations is simply a matter of addressing the deep expectations of our two peoples," Barnier said.  

The paper said Sunday that despite France's multiple overtures to Algeria, "the Americans are far ahead in this game. ... The Pentagon is clearly ahead of the French defense (ministry)."  

Another daily, Liberte, said France wanted to "outwit the Americans, who have never hidden their desire to make Algeria a lynchpin country, notably in the fight against terrorism."  

The United States has stepped up military cooperation with Algeria as part of this campaign, notably in its Pan-Sahel initiative, while denying reports that it has set up military bases in the desert south of the country.  

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns said during a visit to Algeria last October that Washington was helping to train military officers and supply Algeria's armed forces with equipment. The military assistance budget was USD 700,000 in 2002, he said.  

Barnier said his trip would follow up on pledges made by President Jacques Chirac in March 2003 to forge a new alliance between the two countries more than 40 years after the end of Algeria's eight-year war of independence, which claimed an estimated 100,000 French and one million Algerian lives.  

Chirac made a quick visit to Algiers in April to congratulate President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on his re-election victory.  

The foreign minister told Le Quotidien d'Oran: "The main point is to build a new framework for the whole of our relationship to bring it to a level of excellence for the coming decades."  

Sarkozy's delegation in early June included top industry leaders, notably in hydrocarbons, engineering and communications. The French transport giant Alstom signed a EUR 89 million (USD 110 million) contract to electrify Algiers' suburban rail network.  

Algeria, a leading exporter of natural gas, is among the top three suppliers to Europe, alongside Russia and Norway and considers itself strategically positioned to serve the fast growing markets in Europe and North America.  

Hydrocarbons brought in 24 billion dollars in 2003, or 96 percent of Algeria's export revenues.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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