France looks to start afresh with Bush

19th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) - As US President George W. Bush prepares for his second inauguration this week, France is hoping for a new start in a relationship that collapsed in bitter recrimination over the war in Iraq.

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) - As US President George W. Bush prepares for his second inauguration this week, France is hoping for a new start in a relationship that collapsed in bitter recrimination over the war in Iraq.

The key test is likely to be the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

As a prelude, talks are already underway to arrange an early visit to Washington by French President Jacques Chirac. The two men are also expected to see each other next month when Bush flies to Brussels for talks at NATO and the European Union.

In recent interviews French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has spoken of the need for a "new relationship" between Paris and Washington, with at its heart a shared bid to push for a resolution of the Middle East conflict.

"The Americans and the Europeans have a historic responsibility this year to prove that their new relationship is useful by helping to get this process started again," Barnier said on French television last week.

"2005 can and must be the year for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," said Barnier, who has indicated that he intends to travel to the US every three or four months to see his likely counterpart Condoleezza Rice.

The French government believes that the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president as well as the new Israeli coalition government and the planned withdrawal from Gaza offer a rare opportunity for progress.

However some commentators are sceptical over whether the US and France view the conflict from the same perspective.

"For the time being there is a vast gulf separating the French perception from the Americans' on this issue. The French want more pressure on Israel to get a result, while the Americans think that is not the right way," said Pascal Boniface of the French Institute for International Relations (IRIS).

Speaking to the International Herald Tribune last week, Barnier said that France's diplomatic influence would be increasingly exercised via the EU and it was in Washington's interest to form a closer alliance with the 25-member bloc.

"Americans must understand that it is in their interest that Europe get organised and have autonomy," he said. "It's the price to pay for an effective alliance. The alliance between Europeans and Americans must be balanced."

The war in Iraq poisoned relations between France and the US, though recently Paris has taken steps that suggest it will cooperate in efforts to turn the reconstruction process there into a success.

Recently it lent its agreement to an international deal to write off 80 percent of Iraqi debt, and the visit to Paris this month by President Ghazi al-Yawar was a chance for Chirac to stress that - for all his opposition to US policy in Iraq - he supports the elections there this month.

According to a French diplomatic official who spoke under condition of anonymity, "France does not intend to change its policies, but it does not want disagreements to get in the way of dialogue."

And diplomats continue to stress that whatever the falling-out over Iraq, on a host of other issues - ranging from Haiti to Lebanon, Afghanistan and Africa as well as the fight against terrorism - there is strong cooperation.

"Franco-American relations are always going to be a mixture of cooperation and opposition, because France needs to keep its distance. In any case it does not share many of Washington's analyses notably on the issue of multilateralism," said Boniface.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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