Urging caution in the Middle East

Chirac tells Bush and Blair that trying to spread democracy as a safeguard against terrorism is a bad idea, citing Arab fears of Western domination.


Ewen MacAskill
November 19, 2004 8:11PM (UTC)

French President Jacques Chirac, Thursday cautioned George W. Bush and Tony Blair over their campaign for the democratization of the Middle East. Chirac, in a speech at Guildhall in London during a two-day visit to Britain, said he supported reformers everywhere. "Yet we must avoid any confusion between democratization and Westernization," he said.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and President Bush has irritated Arab leaders with his campaign for a speedy introduction of democracy in their countries. France is the most pro-Arab country in Europe. In response to Blair's and Bush's espousal of the spread of Western democratic values as the best safeguard against terrorism, Chirac warned that "although our memory is sometimes short, the peoples submitted to the West's domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism in our actions."

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In the speech, Chirac reiterated his view that Europe should form a bloc as a counterbalance to the U.S. He called for the revival of multilateralism, mainly through the United Nations, rather than a world based on the "logic of power," namely the U.S. Chirac pointedly stressed the importance of dialogue between Europe and "the world's major poles" -- China, India, Brazil, Russia and various trading blocs.

Earlier, at a joint press conference, Chirac and Blair attempted to bury their differences 18 months after relations between France and Britain were strained by the Iraq war. Although there is still a gulf between the two over Iraq, with France keen to see a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S., British and other troops, Chirac and Blair concentrated on areas of cooperation.

Chirac, who had two hours of talks with Blair, said Iraq was the "one and only issue" over which the two countries disagreed. "Who is right or wrong, history will tell." Chirac reiterated his view that the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq have made the world more dangerous. "If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism -- not just in the Middle East but throughout the world -- if you look at all that, you cannot say, and be credible, that the situation has significantly improved," he said.

In the months before the war in Iraq began in March of last year, Downing Street accused France of poisoning the debate in the U.N, and, at one point, deliberately distorted a statement by Chirac about using the French veto in the Security Council. But at the press conference both men were in an emollient mood.

Blair said: "On the question of Iraq, I think the differences at the time of the conflict were well known. But both of us are now working under U.N. Resolution 1546; both of us want to see a stable and democratic Iraq. And both of us will do what we can to ensure that that happens." Chirac said he had been taken aback at suggestions in the press of divisions between France and Britain. "They do not reflect either my own beliefs -- and certainly not the British government's -- or our experience of Franco-British cooperation," he said.

He and Blair said they shared the same analysis of what needed to be done in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on Africa and climate change, and emphasized that British and French soldiers were working side by side in Afghanistan.

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Chirac has been pushing Britain to align itself more closely with Europe. But Thursday he said the close, almost family, relationship between the U.S. and Britain was helpful. "The fact that the U.K. can be a friendly partner between the European Union and the United States is advantageous for Europe," he said. "The U.S. and Europe have a natural vocation to work together."

Later, President Chirac spoke glowingly of France and Britain's common destiny in a speech before the start of the Windsor banquet. Speaking in English and then French, the president told the guests of the respect and affection in which the French people hold the queen and the British people and evoked common struggles for freedom and against tyranny, an entente "consecrated by the blood spilled with so much sacrifice on French soil."

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"The great lesson of the entente cordiale is that, when our two countries unite their forces, few challenges can withstand them ... Our common future means the European Union first and foremost."

Chirac said France and Britain were accustomed to acting whenever international peace and security were threatened. "They are acutely sensitive to the fate of the most vulnerable countries ... There is vast scope for action by our two countries where our combined efforts can help to advance peace, justice and solidarity."


Ewen MacAskill

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