French president Jacques Chirac yesterday threatened to reopen transatlantic rifts between the EU and the US over the war in Iraq by ignoring Tony Blair's plea for Europeans to "face up to the reality" of George Bush's resounding re-election as US president.
Chirac compounded his opposition to appeals for closer cooperation between the US and Europe in Bush's second term by snubbing an EU summit lunch for Ayad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, and urging Europe to act as a counterweight to US hegemony "in a world that's more multi-polar than ever."
The French president, Europe's leading opponent of last year's US-led invasion of Iraq, held talks early yesterday with Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, and Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, to draw up a tripartite challenge to US global dominance by strengthening the EU's common security and foreign policy.
But there were clear signs that the new trio driving European unity, who are to hold joint rallies in France and Spain during next year's referendums on the new EU constitution, were themselves divided over Bush's apparent desire to heal divisions caused by Iraq.
Schroder, initially enraged by Allawi's untimely comments on "spectators" of the war, welcomed the Iraqi premier's public expressions of "respect" for the EU's help in rebuilding his country, notably by providing funds and experts to ensure January's interim elections run smoothly, help train its police force and develop its criminal justice system. The German chancellor, who reiterated his strong opposition to the war in private, said he had rung Bush yesterday to offer his congratulations -- "and we were both of the view that we must look forward."
He repeatedly made plain that Germany wanted to put past differences aside.
Even Zapatero, who pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq immediately on taking office, ignored an obvious snub when Bush refused to take his congratulatory call personally and publicly called for an "increased transatlantic dialogue and respect for each other's position."
A day dominated by Bush's re-election, unwelcome to most Europeans, began with Mr Blair's blunt message that some Europeans were in "denial" and had failed to come to terms with the events of the last few months. He urged the EU to work with "a new reality" and both the US and rest of the world to "listen to each other."
Chirac, who left early to attend the funeral of the ruling sheikh in the United Arab Emirates, brutally crushed questions about Blair's comments.
"It is clear that Europe, now more than ever, has the need, the necessity, to strengthen its dynamism and unity when faced with this great world power," he said.
"That's the goal of the constitution in a world that's more multi-polar than ever ... We must reinforce Europe politically and economically and make sure European cohesion is seen as an international reality," he added.
The French president, who said he had invited Iraqi president Ghazi Yawar to Paris and would do the same for Allawi, issued sharp criticism of the Bush administration's decision to let the US dollar slide on the foreign exchanges, saying this damaged EU exports and would require political intervention with the aid of the European Central Bank.
Jack Straw, the UK foreign secretary, said: "I respect President Chirac. I don't always agree with him; he has an interesting point of view."