France and the United States: A Steady Relationship in a Transformed World
I have served as Ambassador to the United States for little more than a year and it has been a rather unusual period. So much has been said and written in recent months about French-American relations, on both sides of the Atlantic. Because of diverging views on the need for a war in Iraq, we have been through a sort of diplomatic hurricane, and some commentators mistakenly concluded that our alliance was threatened or had sustained lasting damage. Now that the storm has abated, where do we stand?
In a few weeks, France will commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It will be a major moment of emotion, an opportunity to once again say, “Thank you, America,” to all those who risked their lives to save our country. President Chirac will bestow the Legion of Honor upon 100 American veterans who will be invited to attend the ceremonies in Normandy, as are President Bush and the members of the recently formed Congressional French Caucus. America saved us twice in one century and that is some-thing we will never forget.
Today, our two nations stand side by side, as they did in the earliest days of the fight for American independence, on major issues:
- We are excellent partners in the war on terror. When I presented my credentials to President Bush in December 2002, his first words were to praise our bilateral cooperation against the plague of terrorism. Indeed, we are fighting side by side in Afghanistan against remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We share intelligence and work together to dismantle terrorist networks on a daily basis. France was presiding over the Security Council when the tragedy of September 11 occurred. And, as a matter of fact, I was the French Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) at that time and I witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers from my office. That horror will remain in my mind forever. The following day, France introduced a Security Council resolution defining the terrorist attacks as an act of war—a breakthrough in international law—thus authorizing the United States to react in self-defense against the terrorists and the countries harboring them. A few days later, President Chirac was the first foreign head of state to pay a visit to New York and to Washington to express France’s solidarity with the American people. Because we ourselves have suffered from terrorist attacks on our territory, we will always be on the side of those who are actively fighting terrorism.
- We are playing an active part in the reform of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). France is currently the second-largest contributor of troops to NATO operations, and French troops are present alongside American troops in the Balkans as well as in Afghanistan. We strongly favor the creation of the NATO Response Force, to which we will be one of the main contributors, and to whose command we have committed high-ranking officers. We view the building of a European defense as a way to foster a stronger, healthier partnership with the United States, enabling us, on both sides of the Atlantic, to defend our values wherever necessary. NATO will remain the cornerstone of French security and it is not our objective to become a counterweight to the United States. This should not prevent Europe, however, from committing more money to its defense, better integrating its forces and improving its capabilities. Whether we use them within a NATO framework or in a purely European operation—as we did in Eastern Congo last summer—depends on the situation and can only promote peace and stability in a dangerous world.
- Recently, our common analysis of the deteriorating situation in Haiti led our two countries to take the lead in encouraging a political settlement to the rising crisis and to send troops to participate in the interim multinational force created by the UN Security Council. Our effort to help Haiti recover from a situation that had deteriorated significantly will be directed not only at providing military support but will also include humanitarian aid, assistance in investigating the human rights situation and a long-term commitment to the country’s institutional, economic and social development. A laudable bilateral cooperation enabled France and the United States to act rapidly to prevent more violence and a serious humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
- On issues related to the Middle East, France and the United States are engaged in an ongoing dialogue and share the objectives of helping the region eliminate the threats of war, terrorism, proliferation, poverty and underdevelopment. France, along with the United Kingdom and Germany, is actively involved in talks with Iran aimed at ensuring that Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons. So far, a process has begun, some achievements have been made and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been granted greater access and more information on the Iranian programs. On the Greater Middle East Initiative encouraged by President Bush, France is ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with other members of the G-8 and with Arab countries in order to enhance existing cooperation between Europe and its Mediterranean partners and to provide support for new initiatives coming from the Arab countries.
On Iraq, we differed strongly last year on the need for a war to address the international community’s concerns about prohibited Iraqi weapons. But today, France and the US share widely converging views on that country’s future. What is at stake is naturally the fate of the Iraqis themselves, but it goes beyond that and no one can afford an international failure in Iraq. For many months, France has advocated a prompt return to full sovereignty for the Iraqi people and a broad role for the United Nations. As soon as a sovereign government is established in Baghdad and asks for the support of the international community, my country is ready to provide assistance in various fields, including the training of Iraqi police. France has also expressed its readiness to forgive a substantial part of its Iraqi debt.
Let’s face it, our past divergence on Iraq left some traces of bitterness on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather than reporting on a disagreement between two allied governments, some members of the media rather irresponsibly resorted to French-bashing or anti-American slogans. This was a bitter page of our bilateral history that we have to turn. Our two countries have a lot in common: a long history of friendship, shared values, and economic ties that only grow stronger with each passing year. Some 2,500 French companies are present in the United States, providing jobs to 600,000 Americans. France is the second-largest foreign investor in the United States. Every day, economic globalization is building a closer transatlantic partnership. It is my hope that, with due respect for our differences, we may witness the same encouraging trend in our political partnership.
Ambassador of France to the United States