News

    Retiring US Envoy to France Reflects on Relations

    Lisa Bryant

    Ambassador Howard H. Leach
    U.S. Ambassador to France Howard H. Leach is leaving Paris after weathering some of the stormiest years of U.S.-French relations in recent history. A businessman from San Francisco, Mr. Leach had the difficult job of maintaining ties as tempers flared over the Iraq war.

    During an interview, Ambassador Leach said even during the sharpest periods of difference between the United States and France over the war in Iraq, the lines of communication were always open in Paris.

    "The French officials continued to be available and we were always able to talk to each other," he said. "We had strong differences of opinions at times, but we were always able to continue discussions in a reasonably cordial tone."

    Mr. Leach spoke at his office at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, just days before he is to return to the United States. He spent nearly four years in Paris as Washington's envoy to France. He could not have anticipated the rocky ride ahead when it came to U.S. French relations, when he was appointed in July 2001.

    Two-months later, Washington and New York reeled from back-to-back terrorist attacks, sparking an outpouring of sympathy. "We are all Americans," France's leading Le Monde newspaper wrote. And French President Jacques Chirac became the first foreign leader to visit the United States after the strikes.

    But major disagreements between France and the United States soon followed: over the international Criminal Court, global warming, and trade barriers, but mostly over Iraq. Paris led international opposition against the U.S.-led war.

    Today, Mr. Leach says French views about Iraq and about President Bush may have changed.

    "You read in the media, not was France wrong, but was George Bush right?," he said. "And I think some of their intellectuals and some of their leading political thinkers are observing some of the changes that are taking place in the whole Middle East, and the positive reaction of the people in the Middle East to the opportunities to pursue democracy. So I think the French are saying perhaps George Bush did have some things right there."

    Overall, most analysts agree that relations between Paris and Washington have improved considerably. The two sides have worked together to pressure Syria to leave Lebanon, and Washington has endorsed European diplomacy to persuade Iran to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

    Although the United States opposes French efforts to lift a European arms embargo against China, the two have struck a compromise without, as Mr. Leach puts it," any broken crockery" in other areas, such as whether to judge Sudanese in the International Criminal Court.

    Robert Pingeon, the Paris-based head of Republicans Abroad Europe, part of the international wing of the Republican Party, praises Ambassador Leach for helping improve transatlantic relations.

    "He had a rough ride, and I think he came out of it with dignity," he said. "And I think the French-American relationship is improving now, despite bumps on the road that will certainly continue. But I think he contributed to a kind of civil dialogue."

    French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has also praised Mr. Leach's tenure in Paris.

    Mr. Barnier credited Mr. Leach as having a wisdom and availability to French authorities. Mr. Leach did his part, Mr. Barnier said, in establishing better relations between Americans and Europeans.

    But other analysts, including Patrick Sabatier, an editor for France's Liberation newspaper, fault Mr. Leach for not being fluent in French - unlike his two Democrat Party predecessors, former ambassadors Felix Rohatyn and Pamela Harriman.

    Overall, Mr. Sabatier believes Mr. Leach was not very visible on the French public scene. On the other hand, he says, it would have been very difficult for any U.S. envoy to persuade French decision makers and the French public that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was necessary.

    Mr. Leach will be returning to his former career as a business executive in the San Francisco area. Asked to name what he considered his major success as Ambassador to France, he said: "Keeping the lines of communications open and reasonably cordial during a very tough period." Asked to list any failures, Mr. Leach added simply: not to have further eased tensions between France and the United States.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora