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French Politicians Angry Over Rumsfeld Remarks - 2003-01-23

French officials have expressed anger at remarks made Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed French and German opposition to military action against Iraq, calling the two nations part of the "old Europe."

It's the latest issue in French-U.S. relations that are already strained by the disagreement over Iraq policy.

President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin tried to downplay the incident late Thursday.

The president called for a calm and serious debate on military action against Iraq. The foreign minister said that each country should express its policies and vision with frankness, but also with respect.

He also said France is looking forward to consulting with the United States at the Security Council session on January 27, when the weapons inspectors will make their report on Iraq.

But earlier in the day, other French officials expressed fury at the U.S. defense secretary's statement. The finance minister, Francis Mer, said he was profoundly vexed by Secretary Rumsfeld's comments. Environment Minister Roselyne Bachelot responded with an obscenity. Leading opposition politicians called the United States an arrogant cowboy, and accused it of trying to rule the world alone.

During two days of celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the France-Germany friendship treaty, officials of both countries have been adamant in their opposition to any attack on Iraq. The French and German leaders have both said more time is needed for weapons inspections and diplomacy, and that any attack on Iraq would be a failure for the international community. Russia and China have expressed a similar view.

The United States and Britain say Iraq has already violated the latest U.N. Security Council resolution, and time is running out for it to comply.