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'Difficult Partners'

photo: cafe de la poste, r campagne premiere

Part of the crowd in the Rue Campagne Première on Sunday.

A New Campus in Town

Paris:– Monday, 17. May 2004:– It is not my normal beat to be taking part in a symposium with the ponderous title of 'France and the United States – Past–Present–Future,' but this what I was doing on Friday afternoon on account of Metropole's bumper–sticker slogan contest.

At the previous day's club meeting I was stricken with dismay to discover that I had managed to overlook bringing the contest prize, so I was unable to present it to the winner, Francine Harcourt Caplan. The only chance to make good was to present it at the symposium.

As these things invariably work, it was a super bright spring day here – just the kind of day not to be inside and worrying about the bed of thorns uneasily shared by the United States and France for the past 200 years.

The 100th anniversary of the American Club of Paris was the occasion being marked by the symposium. This club, founded with the ideas of Benjamin Franklin's meetings in Parisphoto: rue campagne premiere before the American revolution, is the oldest non–diplomatic American institution in France. The majority of its 500 members are Americans, while the remainder are mostly French, with some other European nationalities as well.

Al fresco in Campagne Première.

The moderator for the afternoon session, about the odd couple's current and future status, was Ms Avis Bohlen, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, and long–time veteran of the embassy in Paris. The morning session, about the historical perspective, was moderated by François Bujon de l'Estang, Ambassadeur de France.

Ms Bohlen started off by saying that relations between the US and France look more positive than a year ago, but noted that "France is the United States' most difficult partner – it has no competition."

This got a wry laugh from the audience, which numbered about 180 – mostly wearing ties or dresses. Noting that France is seen as a distant equal because it has an army that it is willing to use, the leaders of the United States still do not appreciate France's opposition executed with 'flamboyant gusto.' The United States mistakenly believes that France should always be 'an ally in a crunch.'

Despite the crisp feelings generated over the past year, President George Bush will be visiting France to take part in the D Day memorial ceremonies in June. "The US is condemned to cooperate with Europe," Ms Bohlen said, adding, "There are no other candidates in this marriage of convenience."

The first speaker was Olivier Giscard d'Estaing, president of the INSEAD Foundation. He added the 'G8' to the odd couple's marriage, and talked about economics and politics while offering opinions probably too pragmatic to be acceptable on either side of the Atlantic, no matter how rational they may be.

Mr. d'Estaing promoted the United Nations, saying that it was created to ensure 'security.' He said that world wars are in the past, and the problem today is that people will simply move from lives of poverty to wherever they think life might be better. He thought a world government was the only solution that could manage this kind of problem.

Laurent Cohen–Tanugi, author of 'Alliance at Risk' and vice president of Sanofi–Synthélabo, began in French and switched to English. As far as business was concerned, he didn't think there were many differences between the US and France.

The thrust of his remarks focused on the 'menage–à–trois' between France, Europe and the United States – with emphasis on the growing role of the European Union. He said the days of 'Transatlantic' – or France–US relations – were over.

Instead, he suggested that the US sees the EU as a sort of 'grande France.' Or doesn't see, because France hasphoto: bistro 7 changed, due mainly to Europe. France, he thought, could best explain the EU to the United States – as well as the UN, which is poorly understood by the United States. Basically, the United States is annoyed with Europe because the US thinks it may become a strong competitor, or rival.

Third up to bat was Charles Lambroschini, deputy editor of Le Figaro. "I don't pretend to be objective," he began, before going on to say, "America has a history of not listening to France."

This was followed with, "It's true that the French press is just as ignorant as the US press." Then he spoke about his first stint in Washington at the time of Watergate and later, in the Reagan years.

He said, "France does remember that France was saved by America, twice!" And he noted that France was the only US ally never to have been at war with the United States. "Britain was at war twice," and he added, "They burned down the White House."

Speaking about Iraq, he said "We made the same mistake in Indochina."

Mr Lambroschini, who characterized himself as the best Italian correspondent with a French newspaper, was somewhat self–mocking – an attitude only Europeans seem comfortable with – saying, "Nixon lied about Watergate, the French lie too." And, "If Europeans are shy about going to war, they're not chicken. Europeans have a thousand years of wars to remember."

In the summary session that followed, one lady wanted to know the answer to a question that France's Foreign Minister did not answer some time ago. When asked if he wanted the United States to win the war, 'yes or no,' Dominique de Villepin chose not answer at all. This was a terrible 'faux–pas' the lady insisted, repeating the question several times as if it were a vital, self-incriminating clue to recent world history.

The moderator and all of the speakers tried answers but the lady was happy with none of them. There were some comments about over–emotionalism, which reminded me of other unanswered questions – better unasked – during the Clinton years.

Charles Lambroschini said, "It's better to be a journalist than in the government right now." This he modified for TV–news reporting, "Les idiots visuels." The journalist also summed up recent history with, "France est une impuissance moyen. France can't fight, so it screams."

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