France confronts US on 'smears'

The French ambassador to Washington has slammed what he calls an 'unacceptable' US smear campaign against Paris.

    No more talking: Frosty silence
    has characterised Franco-US
    relations in the past weeks

    The mounting tension between Paris and Washington has exploded into the open with an open letter addressed by French ambassador Jean-David Levitte to the White House accusing the Bush Administration of besmirching France's image.


    French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin waded into the row when he confirmed on Thursday that he has asked Washington to clarify relations between the two countries, following what he called a campaign of "disinformation" against France in the US media.


    "We cannot accept that unfounded criticism against France develops in this way," the minister said.


    Media articles


    Paris has become increasingly annoyed at a series of articles in the US media that quote unnamed administration officials making unflattering allegation about France.


    "We have begun to enumerate the false accusations that have appeared in the American press and have profoundly shocked the French people," Marie Masdupuy, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told reporters in Paris.


    Levitte said in his letter to administration officials and lawmakers that "some members of the American media have issued false accusations against France."


    Among the stories cited were alleged French weapons sales to Iraq and a report last week that French officials provided passports to escaping Iraqis. Levitte called these "denigration and lies."


    France angered the Bush administration by leading the international effort to block any new UN resolution authorising the invasion, leading top US officials to meet recently at the White House to discuss how to punish Paris for its actions.


    Levitte's letter included a two-page list of anonymously sourced news stories he said were false, including a 6 May Washington Times story alleging that France helped top Iraqis elude US capture by issuing them passports and drawing a fierce denial from the French embassy.


    “No basis in fact”: US


    The White House and the Pentagon have moved swiftly to reject any allegation that an orchestrated effort to spread disinformation about France is ongoing.


    White House spokesman Sean McCormack denied the accusation. "There is no such organised effort," he said.


    Rumsfeld pleads ignorance of
    Pentagon involvement 

    Defense Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld said the Franco-American relationship was too involved for him to say whether it had changed. "There's so many linkages and connections between the United States and NATO allies that I wouldn't want to say yes or no."


    Asked if there was a disinformation campaign, Rumsfeld said: "Certainly, there's no such campaign out of this building. I can't speak for the rest of government, but I have heard of nothing like that."


    But conciliation could be just around the corner, says Richard N Haass, director of policy planning at the White House. Debates next week in the UN Security Council on postwar Iraq, as well as coming summits of leading industrial nations, will present opportunities.


    But it won't be easy, said Haass, in Paris for meetings with senior French officials. "That's going to require more than politeness."


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