'Dear Condi' hails new start for Franco-US relations

8th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 9 (AFP) - France and the United States declared Tuesday a "new chapter" in their rocky relationship, ending two years of feuding over Iraq with pledges of cooperation to help stabilise the Middle East.

PARIS, Feb 9 (AFP) - France and the United States declared Tuesday a "new chapter" in their rocky relationship, ending two years of feuding over Iraq with pledges of cooperation to help stabilise the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the most delicate stop of her fence-mending European tour, made a forceful appeal for improved transatlantic ties and was greeted by an unusually warm French response.

"It is time to turn away from the disagreements of the past. It is time to open a new chapter in our relationship, and a new chapter in our alliance," Rice said in a speech at a prestigious political sciences institute.

French President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who met separately with Rice, responded effusively to her call for a halt to the bitter row sparked by the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Routinely referring to the chief US diplomat as "dear Condi," Barnier waxed enthusiastic on the meaning of Tuesday's rapprochement on the sixth leg of her whirlwind tour of eight European nations.

"Today the time has come to open a new phase, to start a new chapter, to make a new beginning within this very old relationship," he said.

"I'd like to say in public how much better the world works when the United States and Europe work together," the Frenchman told a joint news conference with Rice in the foreign ministry's ornate Salon de L'Horloge.

A Chirac spokesman said he told Rice that "France attached great importance to bilateral and transatlantic cooperation and shares a common desire to keep up a constructive dialogue."

Officials said both sides spoke of cooperation on a range of issues, including efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reconstruction in Iraq and dismantling Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Paving the way for a European swing by President George W. Bush late this month, Rice set the tone with a speech at the Institute of Political Studies that hailed the "unprecedented opportunity" before the transatlantic alliance.

"America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda, and Europe must stand ready to work with America," she said in the centerpiece address of her first trip as secretary of state.

"After all, history will surely judge us not by our old disagreements but our new achievements."

Rice said the United States "welcomes the growing unity of Europe" but made it clear Washington did not want to see the European Union positioning itself as a counterweight to US power.

"America has everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner in building a safer, and a better world," she said.

Rice warned that, in the Arab world, "the status quo is not going to be acceptable" and called on Europe to march with the United States in spreading democracy to the Middle East.

But some differences lingered despite earnest attempts on both sides to focus on their new-found sense of unity.

Barnier, for his part, made a pointed call for the United States to rally to diplomatic efforts by France, Britain and Germany to rein in Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

"We need the confidence and the support of the United States in this very delicate phase within which we are. And that's what the message is that we conveyed to Condi Rice."

Some Europeans have been complaining that the United States was keeping its distance from the talks while keeping the alive the possibility of military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.

But Rice shrugged off a suggestion that Washington and Tehran have direct talks to resolve the nuclear issue. "Everybody knows what the Iranians need to do," she said. "They just need to do it.

The American also raised US objections to EU plans to lift an arms embargo slapped on China after the massacre of pro-democracy students in Beijing more than 15 years ago.

On Iraq, Rice hailed the success of the country's national elections held January 30 and urged the United States' NATO allies to move forward to consolidate the breakthrough.

Barnier, for his part, sharply rebuffed a question suggesting France was waiting to "re-engage" in Iraq, saying it was providing support for its reconstruction if not troops.

"So we are committed," he said. "We are committed for the success of the political process... We want the country to get back to stability and sovereignty.

In response to questions posed by students at the political sciences institute, Rice said change had to be encouraged in the Arab world at large.

"We have a level of helplessness that has produced an ideology of hatred so thorough and so virulent... that this cannot be the future of the Middle East," she said.


Subject: French News

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