Sarkozy sets EU as top goal, plays down pro-US leanings

1st March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - France's right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday vowed a major push to wrench the European Union out of crisis if elected, calling for a relationship of equals between a strong Europe and the United States.

PARIS, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - France's right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday vowed a major push to wrench the European Union out of crisis if elected, calling for a relationship of equals between a strong Europe and the United States.

Sarkozy said he would use his five years in power to carry out a thorough "diagnosis" of France's role in world affairs, but stressed he did not want a "blank slate" break with the policies of President Jacques Chirac.

"I have two priorities, the independence of France and the future of Europe," the interior minister told reporters, in a wide-ranging speech aimed at boosting his statesman's credentials ahead of the April-May election.

"Our most urgent foreign policy priority is to resolve the institutional crisis opened by the French and Dutch 'no' votes", which torpedoed the drive to adopt an EU constitution in 2005.

"After half a century of European construction, we are united enough for none of our members to be able to act independently, but not enough to be able to act together. Europe has a common space but no common power."

Sarkozy repeated a call for the adoption of a mini-treaty aimed at breaking decision-making gridlock in the 27-member EU, saying there was "nothing to be gained by allowing a European crisis to drag on."

He also argued for a consolidation of French and European defence efforts, describing nuclear deterrence as an "absolute imperative".

"We live in a complex, uncertain world, full of new threats. In such a world it would be reckless to lower our defence effort."

Often attacked at home for his pro-US leanings -- he kicked up a storm last year by criticising French diplomatic "arrogance" during a US visit -- Sarkozy said he wanted an alliance of equals with Washington.

"The friendship between Europe and the United States is vital for the world's balance. The friendship between France and the United States is deep, sincere, I would even say indestructible."

"But friendship means respect... it does not mean submission. I want a free France, I want a free Europe. I therefore ask our American friends to let us be free, free to be their friends."

Sarkozy paid tribute to Chirac's decision to keep Franceout of the US-led war in Iraq, which he said had been a "historical mistake".

Concerning Iraq's future, he warned against both "a hasty withdrawal that would spark chaos, and a failure to set a calendar for a pull-out that would provoke more violence and play into the hands of terrorists."

Speaking of the need to relaunch the Middle East peace process, Sarkozy denied any bias towards Israel: "I put Israel's right to security on the same level as the Palestinians' right to a viable state."

On Tehran's nuclear ambitions, he reaffirmed that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable" and that the country would have to "choose between sanctions" and "cooperation with the international community".

More broadly, Sarkozy pledged to confront human right violations, even ones committed by powerful allies.

"In today's world, where we are informed of everything in real time, silence is unacceptable... our failure to act criminal."

"We cannot remain silent faced with 200,000 refugees in Chechnya," the war-torn southern Russian republic, he said.

Turning to China, Sarkozy said that "as a great power, China cannot expect to abstain itself from the rules respected by other great powers," notably on human rights, environmental protection and fair trade practices.

"A nation that can do so much must also ask itself the question of political freedom even if it's on another continent and is part of another civilisation."

Sarkozy said the Beijing Olympics of 2008 was an opportunity for China to open up to the world. "This is what I want to say to China as friends and with frankness."

Sarkozy is currently running neck-and-neck for the presidency with his Socialist rival Segolene Royal, who has slipped up on foreign policy with a series of blunders during recent trips abroad.

Copyright AFP

Subject French news

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