The French Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Jean-David Levitte, believes U.S.-French relations have improved considerably since the first term of President George W. Bush. He said President Bush “extended the hand of friendship and cooperation to Europe, which was well received in Paris and Berlin.” President Bush chose Europe as his first overseas trip to repair the transatlantic alliance, which split over the U.S. decision to go to war against Iraq.
Speaking on VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Levitte shared his thoughts about the current state of U.S.-French relations as well as issues that unite and divide the United States and Europe. The Ambassador said that although France and the United States disagreed on the necessity of the war on Iraq, France wants to focus on the future and not the past.
He said the recent Iraqi elections were a great success, and that France stands ready to help the new Iraqi government. France has agreed to train 1,500 military police. And the United States and France are cooperating on a peaceful resolution to the political crisis in Lebanon. For years, Ambassador Levitte said, Europeans have believed America should be more engaged in the Middle East peace process, and with the election of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the decision of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza, it is now possible for the transatlantic partners to work together.
Ambassador Levitte said there is now recognition that Europe is the “indispensable partner” of the United States and both must confront the “dangers of today’s world.” According to the Ambassador, the most important “symbolic development” during the trip was the meeting between the 25 leaders of the European Union and President Bush and his declaration that a strong European Union is in America’s interest.
Ambassador Levitte said one of the main reasons France was so much against the war in Iraq was its fear that Iraq might be turned into a “magnet for young Muslims turned into jihadists,” and that is indeed happening. However, he added that France has been quite successful in dismantling some terrorist networks and is sharing its intelligence with Washington.
The Ambassador said he believes the development of democracy in Iraq is “key” to the future of the whole Middle East. He said the future of relations between the Muslim world and the West is at stake. But on the issue of Hezbollah, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization, Washington and Paris differ. France and several other European nations believe it is inappropriate to classify Hezbollah, which is recognized at a legitimate political party in Lebanon, as a terrorist organization.
France and the United States also disagree over the European Union’s plan to lift the ban on military sales to China. Ambassador Levitte explained the ban on military sales no longer made sense because the Chinese leadership has changed significantly since the 1989 Tiananmen student uprising, which triggered the arms embargo. France views the situation in China today as markedly improved since then. Ambassador Levitte added that, even if the embargo is lifted in principle, France has “no intention of increasing arms sales” to China.
On the Iran nuclear issue, France, Germany, and Britain advocate offering economic incentives to Tehran in exchange for stopping its nuclear program. Ambassador Levitte said in Brussels President Bush told the European leaders he was “in the listening mode.” He said what is most important is that Europe and the United States share the same goal – namely, that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program should be only to produce electricity. The Ambassador said that, if Washington were to support Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization, it would give a “boost” to Europe’s negotiating capacity.
With respect to the U.S. policy of encouraging the spread of democracy around the world, Ambassador Levitte said that France has “no difficulty” with Washington. He said France strongly supports recent Palestinian political developments and wants Lebanon to succeed in conducting free and fair elections without “outside interference.”
And finally, the French ambassador said that President Chirac has a “great love for America” where he was a student many years ago, and he is sure that the French president will come back for a visit, although the timing for that visit has yet to be determined.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.