Rumsfeld plays the wise diplomat in Vieux Nice

11th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

NICE, France, Feb 10 (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not always known for his diplomatic finesse, was on his best behaviour Thursday after talks with his NATO counterparts on the "Old Europe" soil of France.

NICE, France, Feb 10 (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not always known for his diplomatic finesse, was on his best behaviour Thursday after talks with his NATO counterparts on the "Old Europe" soil of France.

He was at pains to voice "warm appreciation" to his hosts at the meeting in Nice, the first such talks in France since General de Gaulle pulled his country out of NATO's military command structure in 1966.

The veteran Pentagon chief was even spotted quaffing champagne with his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie at the old town hall in the Riviera capital of Nice.

At an end-of-talks press conference he joked about the limits to his diplomatic talents, which famously included annoying both anti-war countries, and ally Britain, with celebrated off-the-cuff comments.

"I'll take the easy ones, and Nick Burns is here if there is anything that really requires a diplomatic touch. He's a diplomat," he said, referring to the US ambassador to NATO, tipped by some for high office back in Washington soon.

Pressed to be more serious on Iraq strains, he ventured: "I've seen these ups and downs and curves of relationships in the NATO partnership... It ought not to be surprising that from time to time there are disagreements."

He battled on, fielding the questions with his notoriously crusty charm. But at least one, about "coalitions of the willing," had him grappling for a suitably un-headline making response.

"I'd like to get out of here before I make a mistake," he said.

France will not forget Iraq rift, says minister

NICE, France, Feb 10 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Thursday that Paris will not forget its divisions with the United States over Iraq, even if everyone had learned to love each other again.

"That everyone loves each other, that is fundamental," she said, when asked if everything was forgiven and forgotten two years after the transatlantic crisis triggered by the Iraq war.

"But that everything be forgotten? No," she said. "I don't think it should be forgotten," she continued. "I think that in the end these periods of tension are part of our transatlantic relations, and have been for a long time.

"There have been many of them and I think it is on the contrary our ability to know how to overcome our differences, that we have sometimes, which provides the solidity of our relationship."

France led a group of anti-war countries along with Germany during the 2003 transatlantic split.

Alliot-Marie was speaking after a day of informal talks with her counterparts from NATO, which was plunged into one of its worst ever crises by the Iraq conflict.

The talks in the Riviera city of Nice were the first such meeting in France for at least four decades, after French president General Charles de Gaulle pulled his country from NATO's integrated military command in 1966.

The French minister referred to the symbolic nature of the meeting when she welcomed her fellow ministers Thursday morning, declaring: "NATO is at home here."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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