French FM makes lightening visit to US

15th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was due here Wednesday for the first visit by a senior Paris official since President George W. Bush was re-elected and pledged to repair US alliances bruised by Iraq war.

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was due here Wednesday for the first visit by a senior Paris official since President George W. Bush was re-elected and pledged to repair US alliances bruised by Iraq war.

Barnier, whose country spearheaded opposition to the war, was flying in for a lightning round of talks with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

While officials on both sides have vowed to heal strained relations after Bush's re-election last month, there was no sign any substantial breakthrough was in the works during the Frenchman's talks here.

Rather, French officials described his mission as delivering another farewell message to Powell and getting acquainted with Rice. Wednesday's talks will be the first between Barnier and his future US counterpart.

With Bush due to visit Europe in February on a high-profile fence-mending tour, the French press has been rife with speculation that Barnier might be carrying an invitation from President Jacques Chirac to come to Paris.

But French foreign ministry officials said they had no knowledge of any such invitation, although they did not specifically rule out the possibility.

Barnier, who has had ample occasion to see Powell at a flurry of international conferences in recent weeks, was making his first bilateral visit to the United States since becoming foreign minister on March 31.

He was expected to fly back on Thursday to attend a European Union summit in Brussels.

The United States and France have frequently been at loggerheads over Iraq and other issues, with Paris championing a more assertive European posture to act as a counterweight to the world's sole superpower.

Neither country has shown much inclination to give ground.

Armed with a new four-year mandate, Bush has made it clear that any rapprochement would have to be on US terms. He stood by his right to take unilateral, pre-emptive military action if American security interests were threatened.

But Barnier said this week that while renewing trans-Atlantic links was of fundamental importance, the relationship between Washington and its oldest ally must be balanced.

"Alliance does not mean allegiance," he said in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien. "We listen to each other, respect each other, agree sometimes and we can also have differing analyses."

Still, there has been some encouraging evidence of cooperation. France agreed to write off a substantial portion of the debt it was owed by Iraq while the United States backed Paris in the crisis over the Ivory Coast.

Barnier could use his talks in Washington to promote his call for an early international summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an acceleration of efforts to reach a final solution.

Barnier told Le Parisien that moving forward towards a settlement of the conflict would be "the test" for the future of US-Europe relations. "It is at the heart of the renewed trans-Atlantic dialogue."

But Bush, who discussed the Middle East last month here with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, responded cautiously to prospects for holding an international conference anytime soon.

"I'm all for conferences, just so long as the conferences produce something," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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