Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Chirac left bruised but not bowed in US spat

By Mark John  /  REUTERS , PARIS

Anyone who believes French President Jacques Chirac has given up his campaign against what he fears will become American domination of the planet should think again.

The French leader has appeared isolated in recent weeks as Washington left him out of kiss-and-make-up sessions with other opponents of the Iraq war, such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And Chirac has chosen to avoid another all-out clash in the UN Security Council by promising that France will not use its veto to block US proposals on rebuilding Iraq.

But events since the war have convinced Chirac that he was right to stand up to the US and that France's hand has been strengthened for any future tussles, analysts say.

"The whole episode has been bruising, but not isolating. In fact, France has been proved right," said Francois Heisbourg, head of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

While it is careful not to gloat, France feels vindicated by a failure to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq whose alleged existence provided the main argument for war.

It also correctly predicted the US could win the war alone but would need others to secure the peace.

"Multilateralism has been strengthened because the undoubted superpower has been proven incapable of managing events post-war in a country of 26 million inhabitants," said Pascale Boniface of France's Institute of Strategic and International Relations.

Shift in rhetoric?

France was back in action at the UN last week, telling Washington its latest draft resolution on Iraq did not fully answer its call for a rapid handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis and for the UN to oversee a gradual transfer of power.

In rare defiance of the Bush administration, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lined up with France in criticizing the draft while Russia, Germany and China all expressed doubts.

This time, Chirac hopes Bush will agree US interests are best served in Iraq by working within the UN.

But France has no guarantee that the US will not go it alone again -- for example, over other countries Bush has called "axis of evil" states like Iran or North Korea.

Analysts say Chirac is shifting his rhetoric to use language less antagonistic to Washington and more likely to unite EU partners split into two camps over the Iraq war.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, Chirac avoided any mention of his earlier calls for a "multipolar world" in which the US would be just one of several "poles" of power and influence in the world.

"He's realized it goes down very badly, both among the Brits and other European partners," said Charles Grant of London's Center for European Reform, noting it smacks of anti-Americanism despite Chirac's vehement assurances to the contrary.

By dropping talk of a multipolar world, it is argued, Chirac is making it easier for France and other EU partners to boost common defense efforts without raising suspicions that the EU wants to set up in competition with Washington.

That strategy may already be working. Diplomats say even Britain has now agreed that the EU should have a military planning structure separate from NATO.

No one believes the EU can rival the US as a military power any time soon. But Grant said if Washington took the EU seriously as a military force, Chirac's dream of an equal partnership across the Atlantic might come closer to reality.

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