Europe, Headlines

POLITICS: After Iraq, France Faces Sanctions

Julio Godoy

PARIS, May 21 2003 (IPS) - France is facing U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions as punishment for its opposition to the war in Iraq, according to official sources.

France is facing U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions as punishment for its opposition to the war in Iraq, according to official sources.

The U.S. government has downgraded its participation at Salon de l’Aéronautique, the French air show next month. The U.S. government has also excluded France, officially its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) ally, from military exercises due later this year.

French military representatives have been barred from meetings in California on links between Galileo, the European satellite programme, and the Global Positioning System, which is the U.S. military scheme of satellite identification, and which also serves NATO.

These measures were decided late April as a part of a campaign to punish France for its opposition to the U.S. war against Iraq, officials say.

"This anti-French campaign includes a disinformation campaign in which anonymous government officials in Washington spread lies about France," an official told IPS.

French ambassador in Washington Jean-David Levitte denounced this disinformation campaign in a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush. Levitte accused publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek and The Washington Post of joining the campaign.

"I would like to invite your attention to the disturbing, unacceptable nature of this disinformation campaign, whose aim is to hurt France’s image and to deceive the public," Levitte said.

The disinformation has included false claims that France gave former Iraqi officials diplomatic passports, and that it had recently delivered components for chemical weapons to Saddam’s regime.

The official campaign in the U.S. is being backed by a new business war. U.S. companies like Boeing and the oil giant Exxon have launched a drive to push French competitors out of the market.

Exxon and Boeing recently won contracts in Qatar that had been sought also by their European rivals Total and Airbus. The U.S. universities Princeton and Cornell have won contracts to develop university campuses in Qatar capital Doha against French competition.

French President Jacques Chirac sought to counter U.S. influence at a meeting with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani in Paris earlier this month.

Chirac’s meeting with the Arab leader followed a visit to Qatar by French state secretary for small and middle-sized enterprises Renaud Dutreil in early May. Dutreil was accompanied by representatives of leading French enterprises operating in the Middle East.

Claude de Kémoularia, former French ambassador to Qatar, said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, that "the governments of the region have sympathy for the French diplomatic position, but they recognise that France has no real power to put its position through."

French misgivings rose after the recent tour of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East, Russia, and Germany. Powell did not visit Paris.

Powell’s visit to Germany particularly annoyed France. Germany too opposed the Anglo-U.S. war, but Powell obtained partial support in Berlin last week for the U.S. proposal to end UN (United Nations) sanctions against Iraq.

France wants sanctions suspended, not lifted, arguing that a UN evaluation of Iraqi disarmament is needed before a decision is taken. This could mean that UN inspectors certify that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, the reason cited the U.S. to justify the war on Iraq.

In an interview with Le Monde, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin called the U.S. proposal disrespectful of international rules, particularly the Geneva Conventions. De Villepin also criticised U.S. demands for impunity for the occupation forces in Iraq. This position is now inviting the further wrath of the U.S.

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