Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Chirac chilly to plans for Middle East democracy

COLONIAL LEGACY The French leader emphasized the cooperation between his country and the UK, but warned against imposing Western democracy on the world

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

French President Jacques Chirac, left, gestures as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, right, looks on during a joint press conference at Lancaster House, London on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

President Jacques Chirac on Thurs-day cautioned US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair over their campaign for the democratization of the Middle East.

Chirac, in a speech in London during a two-day visit to Britain for celebrations marking the centenary of the Entente Cordiale Treaty, which laid the foundations for a permanent alliance between the two countries, said he supported reformers everywhere.

"Yet we must avoid any confusion between democratization and Westernization," he said.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and Bush has irritated Arab leaders with his campaign for a speedy introduction of democracy in their countries. France is the most pro-Arab country in Europe.

The French president warned Bush and Blair that "although our memory is sometimes short, the peoples submitted to the West's domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism in our actions."

In the speech, Chirac reiterated his view that Europe should form a bloc as a counterbalance to the US. He called for the revival of multilateralism, mainly through the UN, rather than a world based on the "logic of power," namely the US.

Earlier, at a joint press conference, Chirac and Blair attempted to bury their differences 18 months after relations between France and Britain were strained by the Iraq war.

Although there is still a gulf between the two over Iraq, with France keen to see a timetable for the withdrawal of US, British and other troops, Chirac and Blair concentrated on areas of cooperation.

Chirac, who had two hours of talks with Blair, said Iraq was the "one and only issue" over which the two countries disagreed.

"Who is right or wrong, history will tell," he said.

Chirac reiterated his view that the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq has made the world more dangerous.

"If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism -- not just in the Middle East but throughout the world -- if you look at all that, you cannot say, and be credible, that the situation has significantly improved," he said.

Before the war in Iraq beganlast year, the Blair government accused France of poisoning the debate in the UN and, at one point, deliberately distorted a statement by Chirac about using the French veto in the Security Council.

But at the press conference both men were in an emollient mood.

"On the question of Iraq, I think the differences at the time of the conflict were well known. But both of us are now working under UN Resolution 1546, both of us want to see a stable and democratic Iraq. And both of us will do what we can to ensure that that happens," Blair said.

Chirac said he had been taken aback at media suggestions in the press of divisions between France and Britain.

"They do not reflect either my own beliefs -- and certainly not the British government's -- or our experience of Franco-British cooperation," he said.

He and Blair said they shared the same analysis of what needed to be done in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on Africa and climate change, and emphasized that British and French soldiers were working side by side in Afghanistan.

Chirac has been pushing Britain to align itself more closely with Europe. But on Thursday he said the close, almost family, relationship between the US and Britain was helpful.

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