Frank talk from France as foreign ministers let rip

6th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

French was once known as the language of diplomacy but French politicians have left normal niceties aside recently in a series of frank attacks on allies.

Paris -- Afghanistan's president is corrupt, British conservatives are pathetic, NATO can't get its war plan in order and German troops won't fight -- France's top diplomats are in undiplomatic mood.

French was once known as the language of diplomacy, but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche left normal niceties aside in a series of frank attacks on allies.

"Karzai is corrupt, OK, but he's our guy," Kouchner told selected foreign correspondents over lunch on Wednesday, just days before he is due to fly to Kabul to attend President Hamid Karzai's inauguration, according to the New York Times.

Not content with skewering the man whose cooperation he himself insists is key to reviving Western hopes of a stable Afghanistan, Kouchner went on to berate France's NATO allies, especially Germany.

According to the Financial Times, Kouchner said Europe had failed to agree on a joint Afghan plan because German soldiers "are not there to fight.”

Meanwhile, Washington is drawing up Afghan strategy without seeking European input and the NATO allies are wandering into the unknown.

"What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem ... We need to talk to each other as allies," 70-year-old Kouchner declared, according to the New York Times.

And it's not just Afghan policy that has raised hackles in the elegant staterooms of the ministry's Quai d'Orsay headquarters, at least to judge by Lellouche's frank assessment of Britain's opposition Conservative Party.

The Tories are theoretically natural allies of France's centre-right government and are widely expected to form Britain's next government from May next year, when William Hague could become Kouchner's opposite number.

Lellouche's opinion of his recent meetings with Hague? "A waste of time for all of us," he said, according to an interview published in The Guardian.

And Hague's negotiating style? "They have one line and they just repeat one line. It is a very bizarre sense of autism.

"It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe just cutting itself off from the rest and disappearing from the radar map," he stormed, according to the Guardian's account.

"They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European parliament," he added, for good measure.

Neither minister has denied the comments were made, but Paris officials went into damage control mode on Thursday as the impact of their unusually frank plain-speaking began to hit home.

President Nicolas Sarkozy stepped up to smooth any feathers ruffled in Kabul, with warm words for the Afghan leader.

"We want to work with President Karzai, who is the elected president," he insisted, telling reporters the Afghan government had "made great progress in the most difficult of circumstances."

Back at the Quai d'Orsay, Kouchner's aides couldn't quite take the sting out of his sally against Berlin and Washington, but spokesman Bernard Valero tried to rephrase his concerns in more diplomatic language.

On Germany, whose forces in Afghanistan operate under tight rules that limit their ability to go on the offensive, he said: "Bernard Kouchner had the opportunity to talk on this subject with his German counterpart on Monday.

"They publicly reaffirmed their identical views and analyses. Each country sets its own rules of engagement. It's a subject we talk about. These rules evolve to reinforce the coherence of our collective action.

"We believe we need to put into action a true, reinforced cooperation between Europeans and between Europeans and Americans and, on the ground, action by the alliance and the EU in step with our political objectives."

Dave Clark/AFP/Expatica

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