Secretary of State Colin Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepin spoke by telephone Wednesday, hours after Mr. Powell told a television interviewer France will face consequences for opposing the United States over Iraq. Mr. de Villepin, who initiated the call while on a visit to Jordan, is defending France's actions in the crisis.
Officials here stressed that the two countries will remain allies, and they said that Mr. Powell and his French counterpart joked over what they considered exaggerated press reporting about the implications of the secretary's remarks to the CBS-TV network late Tuesday.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher is standing by the notion that there will be consequences for what he said was not just a clash of views over Iraq, but active lobbying by France against U.S. diplomatic efforts preceding the war.
He said there have since been some positive notes in the relationship but it remains to be seen if that can make up for the damage done by the Iraq dispute. "There are consequences for those things. We will have to take into account the disagreements, have to see to what extent the new cooperation in other areas puts them in the past. But [we] also have to understand that we did have these disagreements, understand that they were serious and difficult, and that that has consequences for the future," Mr. Boucher said.
Pressed for examples of possible U.S. retaliation, a senior official here said there might be more use within NATO of the Defense Planning Council, which excludes France. But he said there is no thought of the United States boycotting the G-8 summit of major powers to be held in Evian, France, in early June.
Spokesman Boucher cited as a positive sign for the relationship the French proposal Tuesday for the suspension of civilian U.N. trade sanctions against Iraq, though he said the United States believes that with the departure of Saddam Hussein from power, the sanctions should be lifted altogether.
"It is a move, in our view in the right direction. It's as recognition that there is a changed situation. We think that changed situation justifies, in fact dictates, that we should lift all the sanctions and not in any way inconvenience the Iraqi people as they try to establish normal relationships and status in the world," Mr. Boucher said.
A spokesman for Mr. de Villepin in Amman described the conversation between Mr. Powell and the French foreign minister as "very cordial." In a statement issued before the call, Mr. de Villepin said France will continue to follow its principles in dealing with issues such as Iraq.
He said throughout the Iraq crisis, France, joined by a large majority of the international community, acted in conformity with its convictions and principles to defend international law.
France used a veto threat in the U.N. Security Council in March to block a U.S.-led effort to get a new resolution authorizing the use of force, contending that U.N. inspectors needed more time to determine if Iraq was cooperating with the council's "last chance" disarmament resolution 1441 approved in November.
U.S. officials took great exception to French tactics in the diplomatic fight, including Mr. de Villepin's personal visits to African and other elected Security Council member countries to oppose the American drive for a resolution.