Australian jibe of France as anti-US draws fire
PARIS, Feb 1 (AFP) - An accusation by Australian Prime Minister John Howard that France was guilty of lingering "anti-Americanism" drew sharp words from Paris on Tuesday during a visit by the Australian foreign minister.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, standing next to his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer, told journalists he was “very, very surprised” to hear Howard’s remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on the weekend.
He stressed that France and the United States were allies and would remain so, despite differences over the invasion of Iraq that have chilled transatlantic relations for the past two and a half years.
“Anti-Americanism, when it exists, is no more productive than French-bashing,” Barnier said, in apparent reference to persistent anti-French remarks by some US media and politicians, particularly over Iraq.
The Australian leader – a strong US ally – on Sunday accused “old Europe” of unleashing “unfair and irrational” criticism on the United States during a panel debate at the forum.
“America has made mistakes,” Howard told the panel, but later added in comments to The Australian newspaper that he believed there was an “irrational level of anti-Americanism” in Europe.
“It is a sign of parochialism and it is disturbingly intense,” he said, singling out France and Germany as the worst offenders.
“I found the French and German attitude has lingered longer than I thought it might, and longer than it is in anyone’s interests,” Howard said.
Downer, who called French-Australian relations “very significant”, tried to play down Howard’s comments, saying they were made in the context of the Davos debate.
Howard “sees anti-Americanism as unconstructive. I mean, anti-Americanism isn’t going to get the world anywhere,” Downer said.
He said: “I think we are entering now a much better climate between Europe and the United States and we look forward to a constructive visit to Europe by President (George W.) Bush at the end of this month.”
The French and US governments have sought to rebuild ties in recent months, particularly with Bush’s re-election assuring that he and French President Jacques Chirac will be sharing the world stage for the next few years.
Barnier is to host a visit by new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next Tuesday, and Chirac is to speak with Bush over dinner at a Brussels summit on February 21.
The two foreign ministers said Barnier had accepted an invitation to visit Australia sometime this year.
Downer, who met with French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie before his working lunch with Barnier, was due to leave Paris later Tuesday.
Subject: French News