US-French differences persist

9th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

9 November 2007, WASHINGTON - The warm US welcome won by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his charm offensive here shows tensions over the Iraq war have eased, but differences remain between the two nations, analysts said.

9 November 2007

WASHINGTON - The warm US welcome won by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his charm offensive here shows tensions over the Iraq war have eased, but differences remain between the two nations, analysts said.

Sarkozy this week vowed to back the US stand on Iran and Afghanistan as he promised to nurture the historic friendship between Paris and Washington.

"We may have differences, we may disagree on things, we may even have arguments, as in many families," Sarkozy said, addressing the US Congress on Wednesday.

He also has publicly contemplated France's full-fledged return to NATO, after years on the margins of the Atlantic military alliance.

The French leader said Washington could be assured of French backing on such issues as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and backed a tough US line on Iran's nuclear program, telling US lawmakers, to rousing applause, that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to France."

But amid talk of a convergence of French and American views, policy differences remain palpable.

In a rare note of criticism during his brief visit, Sarkozy urged Americans to do more to shore up the dollar and called upon them to take the lead in the fight against global warming.

Washington's ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, acknowledged Thursday that sticking points remain between the two nations.

"There are disagreements left, about Turkey, about climate change," he said.

"We think we are doing a lot, but President Sarkozy wants us to do more," he said.

Pundits said it is important not to take too much for granted so early in the thaw in ties between Paris and Washington.

"Expecting too much too soon could return the chill to relations," said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Europe Program.

Georgetown University foreign policy expert Charles Kupchman said there was the promise of warmer, enduring ties, but that it was too soon to know whether that would be realised.

"The visit has enormous potential but it's too easy to exaggerate that we have already turned the page," Kupchman said.

In an interview last month with CBS television, Sarkozy himself conceded that disagreements were still in the cards for the new-found friends.

"I want the Americans to know that they can count on us," he said.

"At the same time, we want to be free to disagree."

One commentator in The Washington Post, however, wrote that it was possible the French leader's affection for America did not reflect the views of his countrymen, and that it was still the case that "large numbers of Sarkozy's countrymen regard the American president as the devil incarnate."

And despite his chumminess with Bush, Sarkozy showed that he was willing to hedge his bets and plan for the future, placing a 15-minute phone call during his visit with front-running Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

Her spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post that the New York senator and the French leader had "an informal and friendly chat."

Stapleton said that, going forward, occasional rifts are to be expected, even between the now-close allies.

"Things are ... not so much better that we are not going to have friction on issues on a regular basis," the envoy said.

"France is a big powerful country with its own interests, its own tradition. That's to be expected," said Stapleton.

Despite a few remaining sticking points, it is obvious the Sarkozy era has brought greatly improved relations between France and the United States, after four years of frosty ties under his predecessor Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy's triumphant visit is the first by a French president since November 2001, when Chirac paid a call shortly after the September 11 terror attacks.

Bush acknowledged at a press conference Wednesday that France and the United States had "had a difference of opinion," on Iraq, but suggested the trans-Atlantic allies had put that spat behind them.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the "loud cheers and standing ovations" lavished on Sarkozy were "a sign that France had been forgiven for opposing the American-led war in Iraq."

Sarkozy during his visit steered clear of any criticism of the US-led conflict, saying France wanted only to see "a united Iraq. It is in no one's interest to see Iraq dismantled. We want a democratic Iraq."


Subject: French news

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