Thursday, Apr 24, 2003
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By Vaiju Naravane
The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, who is on a West Asia tour said in the Turkish capital Ankara that "France will continue to do this in all circumstances."
On Tuesday the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, asked in a television interview whether Paris would be punished for its anti-war role in the Iraq crisis said bluntly `Yes.'
Reports here indicate that France's Ambassador to Washington, David Levite, intervened with the U.S Government to have the meeting downgraded with the result that none of the Secretaries attended. Stephen Hadly, number two to National Security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, chaired the meeting.
Punitive measures against France could take several forms. Firstly, France will probably have to say goodbye to significant investments in Iraq made by its petroleum giant Total-Fina-Elf which has sunk billions of dollars in Iraq's petroleum industry.
There is of course no question of the Americans awarding reconstruction contracts in Iraq to French companies.
French firms implanted in the U.S. could see their contracts with the U.S. Government suspended or even terminated. Companies like Sodexho who have million dollar contracts to supply material to the U.S. army is under threat. A suspension of its contract would mean several hundred U.S. workers would get the sack.
The most serious fallout, however, could be political.
The U.S will attempt to cut the French out of as many trans-Atlantic meetings as possible.
The U.S. might attempt to shift decision making within NATO from the North Atlantic Council, NATO's governing body, to the Defence Planning Committee of which France is not a member. French withdrew from the committee in 1966.
In a televised interview a few weeks ago the French President, Jacques Chirac, airily dismissed the possibility of such action against France saying disagreements between allies was permissible and that France continued to be a friend of the United States.
He said France was a member of the European Union and the World Trade Organisation and that unilateral economic sanctions would not be easy to impose.
France has proposed an immediate lifting of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, but it has not suggested removing them as the U.S. had demanded.
That can be done only once the U.N. Security Council certifies that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, said the French Ambassador to the U.N., Jean Marc de la Sabliere.
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