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France Hopes for Better Relations With US - 2003-04-18


Relations between the United States and France have been sour since the French at the United Nations actively opposed the tough U.S. and British stance in favor of military action to disarm Iraq.

In remarks Wednesday in Washington, French ambassador Jean-David Levitte emphasized the close links that have existed between the United States and France for over 200 years. He said the tension over Iraq is now beginning to lift, especially since President Jacques Chirac telephoned Tuesday President Bush.

"It was a good conversation," said Ambassador Levitte. "I think it is the key to reopening the door of our friendship. I hope that behind this door we will see only cooperation."

But the French position against the Iraq war has infuriated many in the United States. Members of Congress, civic leaders, and radio and television talk show hosts have been promoting a boycott of French products. Roger Simmermaker heads a buy-American organization in Orlando, Florida. His web site has published the names of French owned companies that are major players in the U.S. market. He believes French consumer goods companies are being adversely impacted.

"I would say probably in the cosmetics areas, shampoos, things like that," he said. "Because L'Oreal is such a huge French company and they purchased Maybelline, which was formerly an American company back in 1998. Also Dannon is a large company that makes yogurt and bottled water. These are smaller ticket items that Americans come across every day in the supermarket or department store as they shop."

In six weeks (June 1), French President Jacques Chirac will be hosting President Bush and other world leaders at the Group of Eight summit in Evian, France. John Kirton, a Canadian analyst of economic summits, believes at the meeting the French-American dispute may be less important than the personal antipathy that exists between George Bush and another summit participant, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"We're lucky that the summit this year is being held in France and not in Germany. Because the one person who stands out on the other side of the Atlantic in continental Europe as being the real unforgivable sinner here is Gerhard Schroeder in the mind of George Bush," he said. "It isn't just that Mr. Schroeder ran against Bush and his Iraq policy in order to win re-election [in September] all democratic leaders understand how the game is played, it's once having won the election he locked himself in to an ever tougher anti-American, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq policy."

Mr. Kirton believes the Evian summit will be harmonious because all of the participants will want to move on and demonstrate that they united on the major issues of the day including terrorism and the rebuilding of Iraq.

But Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to Washington, is worried by the anti-French tone that he believes is taking hold in America.

"You can have lively debate between two old democracies as you have a lively debate among American citizens about the war, about foreign policy and so on," he said. "But there is no need to transform this normal reasonable debate among friends and allies into French bashing."

Mr. Levitte says some influential people close to the Bush administration, particularly defense department advisor Richard Perle, have engaged in French bashing. Mr. Perle has said that because of its position on Iraq, France can no longer be considered an ally of the United States.

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