Entente is still cordial

Posted in Europe | 19-Nov-04 | Author: Patrick Tyler| Source: International Herald Tribune

French President Jacques Chirac (L) gestures as British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) looks on.
LONDON President Jacques Chirac of France crossed the English Channel to say Thursday that France was ready to cooperate with the United States and Britain to make the world more stable, just and prosperous.

But his conciliatory advance through the pomp and protocol of a state visit - celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale that brought Europe's bitter rivals together - was coupled with unrepentant criticism of the British-American war in Iraq and, more generally, of America's global posture.

Most prominently, Chirac reiterated his view that the war in Iraq had led to an "expansion" of terrorism in the world.

Though he said that France was willing to put its differences with Britain and the United States aside and look to the future by helping to rebuild a stable, democratic and sovereign Iraq, Chirac indicated that he believes the judgment of history will go against the Iraq war and vindicate those who opposed it.

The French leader's visit was timed for the anniversary of the landmark agreement, but it was also set against the backdrop of Bush's re-election and a series of crises in which Washington is looking to Europe for support and assistance: insurgency and elections in Iraq, elections for a new Palestinian leadership and a tentative agreement to prevent nuclear weapons development in Iran.

Much of Chirac's message seemed directed at the Bush administration as the president prepares to visit Europe shortly after his inauguration in hopes of orchestrating a fresh start with his many critics on the Continent.

Blair had just returned from Washington, where he and Bush pledged to work assiduously in coming months to seize the opportunity to reopen peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Chirac praised those efforts.

The French leader said Britain's special relationship with the United States was a "family link" created by history and therefore was an "advantage to Europe" as a bridge across the Atlantic.

But this close bond between Britain and America should be secondary in importance to America's overall relationship with Europe, he added, which had to be based on "mutual respect and confidence in one another."

Chirac used the visit here to frame the issues from his perspective, styling himself as an intellectual rival to the unilateral approach of America in Bush's first term.

"It is by recognizing the new reality of a multipolar and interdependent world that we will succeed in building a sounder and fairer international order," Chirac said in his speech, calling for a strengthening and enlargement of the United Nations Security Council "to represent new balances in the world."

In an apparent reference to the United States as the world's only superpower, he said that while "it is still possible to organize the world based on a logic of power," history "has taught us that this type of organization is, by its very definition, unstable and sooner or later leads to crisis or conflict."

In a foreign policy address that followed his meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair, the French leader argued that building a stronger Europe is not "about building up a Europe against the United States," but about Europe assuming its "responsibilities" either independently or as part of the Atlantic alliance.

Through his remarks, Chirac seemed to indicate that, with the advent of Bush's second term, it remains an open question whether the United States would chose a path of working more closely with allies or in the United Nations. And, therefore, he did not quite extend a hand to Bush, but rather tried to formulate the choices that lie before old allies, bruised and battered over Iraq, at the outset of a second term.

"We have another choice," Chirac said. "That of an order based on respect for international law and the empowerment of the world's new poles by fully and wholly involving them in the decision making mechanisms.

"Only this path," he added, "is likely to establish a stable, legitimate and accepted order in the long run."