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[casi] The gall of France,11538,914693,00.html

The gall of France

Point the finger of blame elsewhere

Saturday March 15, 2003
The Guardian

The latest spate of British government and media
vilification of France over Iraq is unjustified and
distasteful. It is damaging to Britain's own wider
interests. It is also less than totally honest. One
remark by President Jacques Chirac is at the centre of
this storm - his apparent vow, in a television
interview last Monday, to veto a second UN resolution
"whatever the circumstances". Downing Street said Mr
Chirac had "poisoned" the diplomatic process. The
foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told this newspaper
yesterday that this "extraordinary" intervention has
made war more likely.

This is a very serious charge. The unmistakable
implication is that if the UN refuses to back military
action at this time and Britain goes to war
regardless, France will somehow be to blame. Without
bothering to inquire further, British and American
media, notably the Murdoch-owned press, have gleefully
taken the government's cue. Yet as a matter of fact,
as opposed to a matter of political and chauvinist
expediency, the charge levelled at Mr Chirac is
unfounded. What he actually said, according to the
transcript, is as follows: "My position is that,
regardless of the circumstances, France will vote 'no'
because she considers this evening that there are no
grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we
have set ourselves, that is to say, to disarm Iraq."

The key words here are "this evening". What Mr Chirac
clearly meant was that, in circumstances pertaining at
that moment in time, France would use its veto. He did
not say that would be the case at all times; and
indeed, since he spoke, several official statements
have made it plain that France is anxious to preserve
UN unity and will explore "all opportunities" for
compromise. That was the import, too, of his telephone
conversation yesterday with Tony Blair. To the extent
that Mr Chirac's meaning could have been
misinterpreted, he made a tactical mistake. But the
overall French position, that war may be supportable
but only as a last resort, is not objectively in

Why Mr Straw and others appear deliberately and
provocatively to misunderstand it is a more important
question. So what is the answer? Britain and the US
seem determined to portray France's policy as
unreasonable to support Tony Blair's face-saving
definition of an "unreasonable veto". Fearing the loss
of the war-enabling second resolution for many
reasons, but mainly because the vast majority of UN
member states regards it as premature and unnecessary,
they conspire to pin the blame for their own chronic
miscalculations on France. It is fair to suspect Mr
Chirac's deeper motives. But it is dishonest to try to
scapegoat France's present, logical and in many ways
admirable stance on continued inspections for an
avoidable crisis that is essentially one made in

This blame-game is self-defeating. It jeopardises
Britain's wider, constant interest in a creative
partnership with France, especially in key areas like
defence, terrorism, immigration and EU enlargement and
reform. It obscures the crucial issue of future
US-Europe relations. If the government really feels a
need to point the finger, it should look across the
Atlantic - or in the mirror.

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