Kerry win no quick fix for US-France relations

22nd October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 22 (AFP) - The US presidential race is being followed with close attention in France, where an overwhelming preference for a Democrat victory is balanced by the sober recognition that - whatever the result - there will be no quick fix for damaged bilateral ties.

PARIS, Oct 22 (AFP) - The US presidential race is being followed with close attention in France, where an overwhelming preference for a Democrat victory is balanced by the sober recognition that - whatever the result - there will be no quick fix for damaged bilateral ties.

The government of President Jacques Chirac naturally refuses to break protocol by endorsing either candidate, merely stating that it will continue to work with whoever is in the White House on matters of mutual interest.

But following the open rows of the last two years over the war in Iraq - and with a poll showing that nearly 90 percent of the French public wants John Kerry to win on November 2 - it is reasonable to assume that a change at the top would not be regarded unfavourably in Paris.

Nonetheless no-one in official circles is under the illusion that the departure of George W. Bush would spell the end to the tensions between the two countries, and some fear it could even aggravate them.

"Imagine that John Kerry becomes president and asks us to send troops to Iraq. We would say no," a senior French diplomat told Le Monde newspaper.

"It's already proving extremely hard to explain that our refusal is not directed against America. In those circumstances it would be impossible."

Others have pointed out that many of the points of difference between France and the United States - such as the International Criminal Court, trade barriers and the Kyoto protocol on global warming - predate the Bush era and are unlikely to be resolved quickly by a Democrat.

They warn that to expect a return to a 1990s golden age of mutual understanding and goodwill is impossible, given the shift in America's view of itself and the world that was taking place even before the drama of September 11, 2001.

"I do not share the view that the politics of George W. Bush are a temporary aberration," said Pierre Lellouche, a deputy from Chirac's UMP party known for his "Atlanticist" - or pro-US - views.

"What is happening in the US is not neo-conservatism but nationalism, in other words the restoration of freedom of manoeuvre ... That America pre-existed Bush and September 11, and I fear the fundamentals will remain the same whatever the administration. That is why I think our relations with the US will continue to be strained."

Mindful of the fact that a Bush victory looks every bit as likely as a Kerry one, government officials in Paris are stressing that - beyond the obvious disagreements - cooperation between the two countries is actually strong, notably in the field of anti-terrorist intelligence gathering.

"Bridges were never burned," said one Elysee palace insider, pointing out that Chirac's foreign policy adviser Maurice Gourdault-Montagne coordinates regularly with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

But for all the official pragmatism, the French government cannot be impervious to the overwhelming national sentiment of hostility to the Bush administration. Apart from the UMP - which out of loyalty to Chirac is publicly neutral - all the main parties are for Kerry.

The over-riding hope is that even if Kerry were unable to articulate radically different policies on Iraq or other matters, he would be less ideologically driven than Bush and more inclined to seek international sanction.

The tone of trans-Atlantic relations should change, in other words, if not the substance - but that would itself be a major step forward.

"John Kerry's accession to power would bring a significant change. We would once again be dealing with people who treat Europe as important. It wouldn't be a golden age, but at least we'd be out of the ice age," said Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist minister.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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