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Chirac Due in Washington Tuesday - 2001-09-17

French President Jacques Chirac meets with President George Bush in Washington Tuesday, in the first visit by a foreign head of state since last week's terrorist attacks on the United States. Mr. Chirac is expected to balance Europe's emotional support for the United States following the attacks with political caution against hasty reprisals.

President Jacques Chirac's visit to Washington and to New York was scheduled well ahead of last Tuesday's terrorist strikes on the two cities.

Last week, the French leader said he would not change his travel itinerary, but his program and the tenor of his discussions with President Bush have altered dramatically.

Like elsewhere in Europe, the French have showered the U.S. Embassy here with flowers, and staged vigils across the country in remembrance of the victims of last week's terrorism.

A poll published Sunday by France's Journal du Dimanche newspaper also showed 68 percent of French supported French participation in possible military reprisals to the terrorism.

Mr. Chirac has said France will stand beside the United States in fighting terrorism. But during a television interview with CNN, the French President also cautioned that the true author of the strikes must first be found before retaliating. This careful approach is apparently shared by other European leaders Mr. Chirac has consulted before making his trip.

French politics professor Steve Ekovitch, at the American University of Paris, said European leaders will want to be consulted before President Bush retaliates against suspected Islamic extremists, and will be wary of any hasty action.

"[President Bush] has the emotional consensus, but he has to build the political consensus to act," he said. "But I think if he's viewed as overreacting that will erode any sense that the allies could continue to support unilateral action."

France is no stranger to terrorism. In the mid-1990s, the country was hit by a wave of strikes attributed to Islamic groups fighting in Algeria's civil war. The attacks were considered punishment for French support of Algeria's military-backed regime.

Cells of militant extremists remain in France, like elsewhere in Europe. Last week, French counter-terrorism judges opened up inquiries into possible local links to the U.S. attacks and to recent arrests of suspected militants in Brussels, Germany and the Netherlands.

Mr. Ekovitch predicts stepped up cooperation between the United States and Europe in fighting terrorism. But he predicts European governments will demand payback for supporting Washington.

"George W. Bush was criticized before the crisis for not dialoguing, for not consulting enough," he said. "For acting in a way that was too unilateral. I know the Europeans consider this tragedy has once again demonstrated our deep ties, and there will therefore be a heightened expectation of coordination in the future."

Besides meeting President Bush, Mr. Chirac is also scheduled to meet with the French community in New York City, and possibly with New York's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.