US relations in limelight at Chirac, Blair meeting

16th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Nov 16 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will try this week to convince French President Jacques Chirac that Europe's frayed relations with the United States can be mended. But it's by no means sure he'll succeed.

LONDON, Nov 16 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will try this week to convince French President Jacques Chirac that Europe's frayed relations with the United States can be mended. But it's by no means sure he'll succeed.

Chirac arrives in London on Thursday for a two-day official visit and summit talks with Blair exactly a week after the British leader was in Washington to huddle with re-elected President George W. Bush.

Reviving the quest for Middle East peace after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be high on the agenda, along with Iraq, EU-US relations, global warming and Africa, French and British officials say.

The visit caps a year of events marking the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, the 1904 diplomatic deal that ended Anglo-French imperial rivalry and heralded an era of warmer ties between London and Paris.

With Bush back in the White House for another four years, Blair - his best ally in Europe - is eager to see transatlantic relations put back on a steady footing, after they were strained to the limit over the Iraq war.

"Neither Europe nor the US should be arrogant about the other," declared Blair in a keynote foreign policy address in London on Monday evening. "Democracy is the meeting point for Europe and America... It is not a sensible or intelligent response for us in Europe to ridicule America's arguments and parody their political leadership," he said.

Blair's remarks were meant to set the tone for Britain's turn at the helm in 2005 of both the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations and, in the second half of the year, the European Union.

They followed up on Bush's pledge that after a bruising first term, he would strive in the coming year to embrace Europe as a valued partner in spreading democracy worldwide.

But in remarks published Tuesday in London, Chirac - who champions a "multipolar" international system, with a Europe muscular enough that can stand up to the Americans - was dubious.

"Britain gave its support (to the United States over Iraq), but I did not see anything in return" on the Middle East, the French head of state told British correspondents in Paris.

"I'm not sure the United States, as it is today, is ready to make concessions to anyone, even the British," added Chirac. "They are not in the mood to do one favour in return for another."

That said, Chirac, 72, described Blair, 21 years his junior, as "a man I esteem and admire", and compared the often rocky relationship between Britain and France to "l'amour violent" - a turbulent love affair.

Chirac, who last visited London a year ago, is to arrive in the capital - with six ministers and 40 French members of parliament in tow - on Thursday morning when he will inspect a guard of honour before meeting Blair.

A press conference is scheduled for 1:45 pm (1345 GMT).

In the afternoon Chirac will speak on French foreign policy at the Guildhall, in the City financial district, then join Queen Elizabeth II for a special performance of the West End musical "Les Miserables".

The show will take place in the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle, west of London, which is being specially renamed the Music Room for the night to avoid unwanted connotations with the British victory over Napoleon Bonaparte.

On Friday Chirac will place a wreath on the tomb of King Edward VII, who signed the Entente Cordiale in 1904, then travel to Oxford to field questions from 200 students at the city's famous university.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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