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"Freedom fries" off the menu

TEHRAN, Aug. 20 (Mehr News Agency) -- France has sent its top diplomat to Iraq for the first time since Paris led opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Although Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was visiting Baghdad at the invitation of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the turnaround reveals many things.

Since taking the helm at the Elysee Palace in May, Nicolas Sarkozy has been taking steps to repair France's ties with Washington, which had been damaged by the stance of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

France took a hard line on the issue, saying it would veto any UN resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq, which forced the United States to abort its plan to get Security Council approval for the adventuristic action.

Relations between Paris and Washington got so frosty that on April 13, 2003, when the U.S. was still intoxicated by its quick victory over Saddam Hussein's Baath regime, then national security advisor and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assessed the situation by saying, "Punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia."

The cafeteria of the U.S. House of Representatives even ludicrously changed the name of "French fries" to "freedom fries" on its menu.

There were two main reasons for French opposition to the war. First of all, France had great economic interests in Iraq. In addition, France, which views itself as a major power, did not want to allow the U.S. to become an unchallenged power on the world stage that believed it could invade countries at will.

Now Sarkozy has no qualms about being called the new U.S. puppet, replacing Tony Blair. He deliberately selected New Hampshire for his summer holiday. George W. Bush hosted him for a lunch at the Bush family's seaside vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

A French Foreign Ministry official has acknowledged that Kouchner's visit sent a message to the United States about France's desire to put aside the past conflict and begin diplomatic partnership on Iraq. "It's of symbolic significance," the official told Time magazine of this first voyage to Iraq. "But you often open the door to concrete chance by first taking symbolic positions."

Similarly, the overtures have resounded well in the White House. "It looks like we're on the verge of a new era of relations with the French, which is a good thing," White House spokesman Tony Snow recently said.

Through such moves, Sarkozy wants to revive France's economic interests in Iraq, which is the same goal of its diplomatic opening to Libya, and at the same time help Washington in its efforts to internationalize the Iraq issue by involving the UN, which is a sign that the French president intends to bring France's position more in line with the views of the neocons ensconced in Washington.

... Payvand News - 8/20/07 ... --

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