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French rise above US barbs
By Julio Godoy

PARIS - France is facing US economic, military and diplomatic sanctions as punishment for its opposition to the war in Iraq, according to official sources.

The US government has downgraded its participation at Salon de l'Aeronautique, the French air show next month, and the US government has also excluded France, officially its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, from military exercises later this year.

French military representatives have been barred from meetings in California on links between Galileo, the European satellite program, and the Global Positioning System, which is the US military scheme of satellite identification, and which also serves NATO.

These measures were decided late last month as a part of a campaign to punish France for its opposition to the US war against Iraq, officials say. "This anti-French campaign includes a disinformation campaign in which anonymous government officials in Washington spread lies about France," an official told Inter Press Service.

French Ambassador in Washington Jean-David Levitte denounced this disinformation campaign in a letter to US President George W Bush. Levitte accused publications such as the New York Times, Newsweek and the Washington Post of joining the campaign.

"I would like to invite your attention to the disturbing, unacceptable nature of this disinformation campaign, whose aim is to hurt France's image and to deceive the public," Levitte said. Instances include false claims that France gave former Iraqi officials diplomatic passports, and that it had recently delivered components for chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime.

The official campaign in the United States is being mirrored by a new business war. US companies such as Boeing and the oil giant Exxon have launched a drive to push French competitors out of the market. Exxon and Boeing recently won contracts in Qatar that had been sought also by their European rivals Total and Airbus. The US universities Princeton and Cornell have won contracts to develop university campuses in the Qatari capital Doha against French competition.

French President Jacques Chirac sought to counter US influence at a meeting with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa al-Thani, in Paris this month. Chirac's meeting with the Arab leader followed a visit to Qatar by the French state secretary for small and medium-sized enterprises, Renaud Dutreil, in early May. Dutreil was accompanied by representatives of leading French enterprises operating in the Middle East.

Claude de Kemoularia, former French ambassador to Qatar, said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde that "the governments of the region have sympathy for the French diplomatic position, but they recognize that France has no real power to put its position through".

French misgivings rose after the recent tour of US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East, Russia and Germany. Powell did not visit Paris. Powell's visit to Germany particularly annoyed France. Germany, too, opposed the Anglo-US war, but Powell obtained partial support in Berlin last week for the US proposal to end United Nations sanctions against Iraq. Germany, France and Russia had wanted sanctions suspended, not lifted, arguing that a UN evaluation of Iraqi disarmament is needed before a decision is made.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, France, Germany and Russia decided to back the latest draft of a US-proposed resolution lifting UN sanctions on Iraq, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said. "Even if this text does not go as far as we would like, we have decided to vote for this resolution. This is because we have chosen the path of unity of the international community," Villepin said at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov.

So maybe now the French will be back in favor in the United States.
(Inter Press Service)
May 23, 2003


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