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Blair answers French citics – in French

Published on 25/11/2003

PARIS, Nov 24 (AFP) - Britain won't choose between Europe and the United States but would rather maintain and strengthen ties in both camps despite the obvious strains caused by the US war on Iraq and differences over a European defence initiative, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday.

In a 14-minute interview with French state television network France 2 in his London offices, Blair, speaking French and smiling, addressed many of the topics covered in his day-long summit with French President Jacques Chirac.

Although again admitting there were “differences between the two countries” over Iraq, he preferred to talk up areas where Britain and France have cooperated, notably in Afghanistan and in fighting terrorism.

But when pressed about the perception in France that he was favouring relations with the United States over Europe, he issued a strong denial, saying “for us, it’s very important to keep both ties.”

“Maybe it would be easier for me as prime minister to choose, but I won’t make that choice, because it’s not in the interests of my country,” Blair said.

He notably reaffirmed his desire to see a separate European defence structure that could operate independently of NATO – a point that has ruffled feathers in Washington.

“NATO is absolutely fundamental, it’s the foundation of our defence” he said. “But there will be situations where NATO can’t be called in, and it’s important in those cases for Europe to have the capacity, the power, to manage operations.”

On Iraq, he rejected any suggestion that he might have made a mistake in so closely supporting the United States, saying: “I think we have done the proper thing.”

He added: “When you’re a leader, you have to do things by conviction.”


Subject: French news