March 29, 2003
PARIS -- France's government angrily insisted Friday that it hopes U.S.-led forces win the war in Iraq, signaling fear in Paris that its image as an untrustworthy friend could seriously damage long-term relations with Washington.
In an extraordinary statement for a major U.S. ally, the Foreign Ministry said it was "indignant" at media suggestions that French support for the United States was ambiguous, and quoted Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin as saying he hoped for an American victory.
"I will remind you that the minister said on March 24 ... 'the United States, we hope, will win this war quickly,"' said spokesman Francois Rivasseau.
The ministry was protesting media coverage of Villepin's comments Wednesday at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, where he reiterated his high profile opposition to the war.
The statement did not specify which publications it was referring to, but at least two English-language newspapers reported that Villepin refused to say explicitly who he hoped would win the war.
"It is not acceptable that the positions of France be distorted in this way," Rivasseau said, declaring that France's stand on who should win the war was "totally devoid of ambiguity."
Villepin began his speech in London by calling for "a renewed close and trusting friendship with the United States." But later, he said U.S. policy could lead to instability and uncertainty.
When a reporter asked him after the speech if he wanted U.S.-led forces to win the war, he did not say "yes." Instead, he refused to answer, admonished reporters for not listening carefully and referred them to earlier remarks.
In Washington on Friday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "We certainly would not imagine that any nation, even those who did not support our actions in the United Nations Security Council, could express anything other than that they hope that the coalition would be successful."
Rivasseau's statement was the second time in recent weeks that the ministry has complained about press coverage in the English-language media. Two weeks ago it denied an American columnist's allegation that Paris had allowed French companies to ship weapons-building materials to Iraq.
The French are particularly troubled about calls in the United States for a boycott of French products. A U.S. Internet site this week published an advertisement in the New York Times urging consumers not to fly Air France, eat Yoplait yogurt or buy other goods.
"Once the crisis is past, one could think that French companies ... could be left out of contract bids," Le Figaro newspaper said in an editorial Friday. "That's what French leaders are the most worried about."
While French officials have been more outspoken recently about the importance of ties with Washington, they haven't backpedaled in their condemnation of the war.
Just last week, French President Jacques Chirac said France would veto any U.N. resolution letting "the belligerents" run Iraq after the war.