Venezuela-France build personal, political ties
PARIS, Oct 18 (AFP) - Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Jacques Chirac of France were to meet in Paris Wednesday in a show of bonhomie that also underlined their shared reputation as sometime-thorns in the side of the United States.
It was the third time this year the leaders have seen each other. Chavez saw Chirac in March in Paris, and then again in August on the French island of Martinique, where the two paid their respects to 152 French passengers who died aboard a chartered plane that crashed in Venezuela.
“This third meeting of the year shows the close, human and personal relationship that unites the two leaders,” the Venezuelan ambassador to Paris, Roy Chaderton Matos, told AFP.
The two have had significant run-ins with Washington.
Chirac’s efforts to get Franco-US relations back into friendly territory after the divergences over the Iraq war have butted up against new transatlantic disputes, particularly ones to do with trade, as can be seen in World Trade Organisation negotiations currently underway.
France and the United States are also at loggerheads in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation over a proposed convention on “protecting cultural diversity” that Washington believes will be used to justify barriers to Hollywood film exports.
Chavez, a firebrand politician fond of neo-Marxist rhetoric, has rankled Washington with his constant assertions that, since a failed 2002 coup against him he said was organised by the CIA, he is an assassination target for the United States.
The fact that his country is a major exporter of oil to the US, that he is building up his military forces and that he has developed close relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro means Washington is wary of him, and his attempts to forge a Latin American grouping opposed to US “imperialism”.
US officials are also worried that Chavez might be embarking on a nuclear programme, according to a report in Monday’s Washington Times newspaper.
It quoted an unidentified official as saying the Venezuelan govenment had made overtures to Iran, which is moving ahead with its own nuclear programme that Washington fears will be used to build an arsenal.
Although there was no proof that Chavez wants to build nuclear weapons, the newspaper quoted the official as saying: “We are keeping an eye on Venezuela.”
“They are quite kissy-kissy with Iran,” the paper quoted another unnamed official as saying. “There is a lot of back and forth. Iranians show up at Venezuelan things. They are both pariah states that hang out together.”
France was evidently not treating Venezuela as a pariah, however.
Chavez held a working lunch with French prime minister Dominique de Villepin — who speaks fluent Spanish and spent much of his youth growing up in Caracas — before preparing for his meeting with Chirac late Wednesday.
The two countries’ respective foreign ministers, Ali Rodriguez and Philippe Douste-Blazy, also held a meeting to discuss bilateral economic, political and cultural ties, and Chavez and a group of 40 Venezuelan business leaders were to gather with French corporate bosses on Thursday.
“There is a desire on both sides to deepen bilateral relations,” a French foreign ministry spokesman said.
Chaderton said France was a “privileged partner”.
“Our relationship with France goes beyond sentimentality and is based on political convergence, a similar vision of the world and significant trade.”
Exchanges between the countries in the first half of this year stood at EUR 235 million with the balance tilted in favour of Venezuela, thanks to its exports of oil and derivative products to France.
The French oil group Total is involved in Venezuela through a consortium called Sincor, which includes the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela company and the Norwegian group Statoil.
Chaderton said Venezuela also “admired France’s military infrastructure” but said he was not aware of any deal for Paris to sell Mirage fighter jets to Caracas, despite behind-the-scenes lobbying by French officials.
Chavez arrived in Paris from Italy, where he called Tuesday for a “strategic alliance” with prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in the oil sector.
“Venezuela wants to become the principal oil provider for Europe and Italy,” he said.
Subject: French news