French foreign minister makes first trip to US

4th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 3 (AFP) - The first in-depth talks between the current foreign ministers of France and the United States take place Monday when Philippe Douste-Blazy heads to Washington to meet his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice.

PARIS, July 3 (AFP) - The first in-depth talks between the current foreign ministers of France and the United States take place Monday when Philippe Douste-Blazy heads to Washington to meet his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice.

The two briefly met on the sidelines of a Group of Eight preparatory meeting in London nearly two weeks ago but have not had a chance for prolonged face-to-face discussions over their countries' up-and-down relations since taking their respective posts.

Douste-Blazy, a 52-year-old cardiologist with no foreign policy experience, was shifted from his previous portfolio as France's health minister to head the foreign ministry a month ago in a cabinet reshuffle ordered by President Jacques Chirac following the French rejection of the EU constitution in a referendum.

Rice took up her duties as secretary of state in January in US President George W. Bush's second administration after serving as national security advisor in the first administration.

The timing of Douste-Blazy's trip is significant.

He will be arriving in Washington on Monday, the US Independence Day which recalls, in part, France's strong military role in helping the one-time British colony win nationhood. He will attend celebrations at the US Federal Reserve as guest of the central bank's president, Alan Greenspan.

His trip will end as Chirac, Bush and other leaders in the Group of Eight nations attend a summit in Scotland.

On Tuesday, Douste-Blazy will meet French business leaders living in the United States and representatives of the US Jewish community before lunching with Rice.

Discussions between the two ministers are expected to range over a number of topics, including cooperation in fighting terrorism, French and US sponsorship of the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, and their countries' initiatives for Africa.

The differences over the US-led war in Iraq would, as always, hover in the background of the meeting, though both the French and US governments have climbed down from the sharp rhetoric exchanged in the past, instead emphasising different areas of agreement.

Possible previously unsuspected behind-the-scenes cooperation between French and US espionage services was revealed Sunday in a Washington Post story that spoke of a Paris installation known as Alliance Base where CIA officers and their Australian, British, Canadian, French and German counterparts jointly plan anti-terrorism operations under the command of a French general.

The French foreign ministry said Douste-Blazy and Rice may also discuss transatlantic relations in light of the internal EU crisis triggered by the French rejection of the EU charter and exacerbated by a power struggle between Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the EU budget.

Later Tuesday, the French minister is to see the head of the American Federation of Labour trade union, John Sweeney, and then journalists and representatives of US think tanks.

On Wednesday, Douste-Blazy is to go to New York for a meeting with former president Bill Clinton at the latter's home before heading to Chicago for talks with a rising star in the US Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama, and the city's mayor, Richard Daley.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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