France's ambassador to the United States says the two countries remain united in the war on terrorism, despite what he calls a diplomatic hurricane in recent relations. French envoy Jean-David Levitte spoke in Los Angeles, Thursday. The diplomat is urging U.S. officials to work closely with the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq.
Mr. Levitte says the United States and France share the same values and goals, despite France's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He says the two countries are also sharing intelligence in the war on terrorism.
"We will stay together in this fight against terrorism because it is a challenge to our values, but also to the values of the Islamic world," he said. "These are forces of destruction, and all our governments want to build a better world, to build a world of dialogue, a world of peace."
The diplomat says his government shares the U.S. view that terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are the two greatest threats of this century. But he says France disagrees that the invasion of Iraq was justified as part of the war on terror.
Nevertheless, he says French and U.S. troops are sharing peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Haiti. He says there are no military solutions to Iraq's security problems, but that United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is providing direction in achieving a political solution. Mr. Levitte says the key to rebuilding Iraq is security.
"To rebuild security, you have to rebuild the police, the army, and that's what you [the United States] are doing. And France is ready to help," he said. "We have proposed to train and equip the Iraqi gendarmerie."
He says France has expertise in training military police, and will be happy to help Iraqi officials once they regain sovereignty over their country June 30.
He says that for the transfer of power to be effective, the Iraqi people must have a sense of empowerment, as an Iraqi caretaker government prepares for free elections by early next year. U.N. envoy Brahimi has said the current level of violence threatens the planned elections.
The French diplomat says his country is well aware of the need for a stable Middle East because of its difficult history as a colonial power in North Africa, and because the people of the two regions are neighbors.
He adds that recent immigration from the Middle East has changed European society and brought the two cultures closer, while also creating tensions over questions of cultural identity. He notes that eight percent of French citizens are now Muslims of Middle Eastern background.