France faces isolation as strains show in anti-war axis
Summit Chirac under pressure at home and abroad
Paul Webster in Paris, Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and John Hooper in Berlin
Friday April 11, 2003
Jacques Chirac faced a backlash from his peace campaigning yesterday after warnings from his own party that France had gone too far in opposing Britain and the US, and now faced international isolation.
The French president, described by the newspaper Libération as the "king of peace without a crown", was criticised by leaders of his UMP party for three weeks of silence since the invasion.
Only yesterday, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, did Mr Chirac issue a comment. "France, like all democracies, rejoices," he said in a statement.
Mr Chirac now has to depend on spontaneous reconciliation with Britain and the US if France is to have a role in postwar reconstruction.
The repercussions will be tested in St Petersburg when Mr Chirac meets the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, today.
Mr Chirac called Tony Blair on Wednesday night to ask if France could be included in the immediate supply of humanitarian aid which he said was "the absolute priority". Mr Blair, who has been one of the targets of Mr Chirac's attacks, did notrelease his reply.
The president also asked the prime minister to raise the issue of French cooperation in Iraq with George Bush, whom the French president has not yet contacted. Chirac advisers said they were convinced the US would resist a "central role for the UN" which Mr Chirac has demanded. Hopes had now been placed on British influence with the US leader.
The UMP chairman, Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, has spoken privately on several occasions to Mr Chirac to warn that France risked international isolation by standing up to the Americans and refusing to support Britain's attempt to ensure a security council resolution legitimising the war.
Yesterday it became clear that Mr Juppé's feelings were shared by other party managers, including the parliamentary leader, Jacques Barrot. He complained about Mr Chirac's lack of enthusiasm for the coalition victory and called on him "to show his public support for the courage of the Americans and British in bringing down a dictatorship".
Another influential MP, the party's leader in the Paris city council, Claude Coasguen, said Mr Chirac had "to act swiftly to lessen the impact of violent anti-American remarks and rethink a number of provocative statements made without reflection".
Today's St Petersburg meeting was planned before the fall of Baghdad and was intended to seal an anti-war alliance which diplomats now consider fragile, as Russia is said to be anxious to restore good rela tions with the US. President Putin's public anti-war stance has reflected the anti-coalition stance of the Russian public.
But diplomatically the Kremlin has sought to heal the rift with Washington, Mr Putin announcing during the war that a US defeat was not in Russia's interests. While the rift over Iraq has publicly interrupted strong relations with Washington since September 11, privately diplomats say it is now "business as usual".
But the diplomatic tensions over the role of the UN are sure to be reignited. Gerhard Schröder announced yesterday that Germany would only take part in the reconstruction if the operation were carried out under UN auspices.
His ultimatum highlighted the point that Germany's position remains more uncompromising than that of France.
Mr Schröder's setting out of conditions will also alarm German industrialists hoping for lucrative contracts in the aftermath of the conflict.