Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Chirac Pledges a Powerful Europe

Backing Bush has won you nothing, Chirac tells Britain
By Charles Bremner in Paris and Philip Webster, Political Editor

JACQUES CHIRAC dealt a blow to Tony Blair’s attempt to heal the wounds
between the US and Europe last night by saying that the Prime Minister had
won nothing for supporting the war against Iraq.

As Mr Blair used a keynote speech to present Britain as a “bridge across the
Atlantic”, President Chirac doubted whether anyone could play the “honest
broker”. Speaking before he visits London on Thursday, he said that it was
not in the nature of this Administration to return favours.

Mr Blair suffered another setback when Colin Powell, the US Secretary of
State and the administration figure most trusted by Europe, resigned. There
were doubts over whether his successor, possibly Condoleezza Rice, the
National Security Adviser, would be as accommodating.

M Chirac, speaking to British journalists, including The Times, soon after
General Powell’s announcement, revealed that he had urged Mr Blair to demand
the relaunch of the Middle East peace process in return for backing the war.

“Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see anything in return. I’m
not sure it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return
favours systematically.”

In other remarks that will sting the Bush Administration, he again outlined
his vision of a “multipolar” world in which a united Europe would be equal
with the US, and mocked Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, for his
division of Europe into old and new.

M Chirac said that there would be no division between Britain and France.

“It is like that nice guy in America — what’s his name again? — who spoke
about ‘old Europe’. It has no sense. It’s a lack of culture to imagine that.
Imagining that there can be division between the British and French vision
of Europe is as absurd as imagining that we are building Europe against the
United States.”

The comments underline the scale of the task facing Mr Blair as he tries to
be a bridge between Europe and America, a job to which he devoted last night
’s foreign policy speech at Guildhall in London.

The Prime Minister, aware that Mr Powell’s departure would be received with
apprehension by European governments, bluntly told the US Administration to
reach out to Europe and enlist its support in the war against terrorism.

“Multilateralism that works should be its aim. I have no sympathy for
unilateralism for its own sake,” he said.

Mr Blair also said that Europe had a big opportunity because the US realised
that lasting security against terrorism could not be provided by
conventional military force but required a commitment to democracy and
freedom.

Democracy was the meeting point for Europe and America. He was not
advocating military solutions to achieve it but Europe and America should
work together to bring democracy to places denied it.

He balanced his warning to the Americans by telling Europe that it was not
sensible to ridicule US arguments or parody their political leaders.

Mr Blair hinted that he understood the difficulties, even before M Chirac’s
intervention. He said that Britain’s role could be a bridge, a pivot or even
a “damn high wire”.

M Chirac, whose visit to Britain concludes the Entente Cordiale anniversary
celebrations, said: “I am not sure, with America as it is these days, that
it would be easy for someone, even the British, to be an honest broker.”