France, stung by Libyan WMD deal, admits US policies showing results
PARIS (AFP) Dec 22, 2003
France on Monday expressed unease at being kept out of the loop on US-British negotiations that led to Libya foresaking illegal weapons programmes, with many politicians and newspapers seeing that as further proof that Paris was systematically being frozen out by Washington.

The announcements last Friday by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush that Libya had, after nine months of secret negotiations, agreed to renounce its quest for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons caught the French government short.

"These talks were secret, as the three countries involved have said, and France, along with everybody else, was not informed," President Jacques Chirac's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said.

That contradicted an earlier comment from Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who had said France had been apprised of the negotiations.

Alliot Marie later admitted that Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin "wasn't informed in detail by (US Secretary of State) Colin Powell about the contents of the agreement."

The media, which have long criticised the US war and invasion of Iraq, grudgingly allowed that that conquest had borne fruit in terms of putting pressure on other countries Washington considers "rogue states" or part of an "axis of evil".

But they warned that the dividends gained by throwing US military might around the globe were short-term and may be undermined by the long-term consequences.

"An era has truly come to an end in the Middle East," the newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial taking in Iraq, the recent decision by Iran to allow inspections of its nuclear programme, and the Libya deal.

"The fall of Saddam Hussein probably counted in (Libyan leader Moamer) Kadhafi's about-face," it said, but added that the diplomatic breakthrough showed that "more than ever, the danger posed by Saddam Hussein did not justify a unilateral war without UN backing."

The weakening of rogue states, it said, was being matched by a rise in militant Islamic fundamentalism even as "a widening and destructive gap" was opening between Europe and the United States.

Another newspaper, France Soir, said that "it has to be recognised that the Americans ... whose sad record of supporting tyrants we know, have nonetheless contributed to making sure that Hitlerism, Stalinism and fundamentalism don't last."

All the papers noted that London and Washington had succeeded in bending Tripoli to their will, in contrast with Paris, which has been struggling to force Libya to pay significant compensation to the families of 170 people who were killed in 1989 when a bomb blew apart a French aircraft over Niger.

The reference in that dispute has become the 2.7-billion-dollar (2.2-billion-euro) payout Libya made for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in return for a lifting of UN sanctions.

The left-wing Socialist opposition party was quick to draw the conclusion that the US-British deal with Libya -- which the British newspaper The Observer said involved Kadhafi also handing over details about hundreds of al-Qaeda members -- "shows the isolation of France, and French diplomacy, in an area where it traditionally has a lot of influence," according to a spokeswoman.

"This shows that international diplomacy has come down to a coupling of the United States and Great Britain, which undermines the whole concept of multilateralism and the role of the UN," said the spokeswoman, Annick Lepetit.

Other observers tallied up current Franco-US disputes -- the exclusion of anti-war countries from Iraq's reconstruction, bitter wrangling to settle a lawsuit over a French bank's illegal purchase of US insurer Executive Life, the decision to put off an announcement on whether to build an international nuclear fusion reactor in France or Japan -- to say that Washington was clearly seeking to punish Paris wherever and whenever it can.

"Within the American administration there are some who intend to pursue a deliberate strategy of isolating France because of what happened during the Iraq crisis," one deputy from Chirac's ruling UMP party, Pierre Lellouche, told the newspaper Le Parisien.