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.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs