Jacques Chirac warned George Bush and Tony Blair yesterday that their plans to spread democracy around the world must not turn into a modern-day colonialism based on America's military might.
A week ago in Washington, President Bush and Mr Blair joined forces in a crusade to extend democratic and human rights to those countries that denied them. Yesterday, on a visit to London, the French President called for a "strong Europe" and rejected the go-it-alone approach of American neoconservatives.
While backing the principle of democracy, M. Chirac warned: "We must avoid any confusion between democratisation and Westernisation. For although our memory is sometimes short, the peoples submitted to the West's domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism." However, Mr Blair and M. Chirac sought to "move on" after two years of wrangling over Iraq as they discussed plans to step up Anglo-French co-operation on other issues.
M. Chirac was in a conciliatory mood at two hours of talks with Mr Blair at Downing Street to mark the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale. At a joint press conference, they agreed to disagree on Iraq but stressed their unity on issues such as the Middle East peace process, defence co-operation, climate change, Africa, Iran and Afghanistan.
Recent meetings between the two leaders have been overshadowed by their dispute over the Iraq war. They adopted a different approach yesterday, openly admitting differences but saying they wanted to look to the future rather than the past.
Mr Blair said: "The differences at the time were well known. But both of us are now working under UN resolution 1546, both of us want to see a stable and democratic Iraq. And both of us will do what we can to ensure that that happens."
The President said Iraq was the "one and only issue" over which France and Britain disagreed. "As to who is right or wrong, history will tell," he said. He said the two nations were working "hand-in-glove" on other issues, adding: "Where there is difference of opinion, it should be addressed in a spirit of solidarity, not conflict."
Although he repeated his view that global terrorism had increased since the Iraq war, he softened his criticism by saying he was not making a direct link. He acknowledged Britain's role as an an "honest broker" between Europe and America because of its historical ties with the US, saying this was "an advantage for Europe".
In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, M. Chirac called for a "new world order" based on a revival of multilateralism and respect for international law rather than "a logic of power".
He said neither Europe, the US nor any other political player could meet the challenges facing the world alone. "It is by recognising the new reality of a multipolar and interdependent world that we will succeed in building a sounder and fairer international order," he said.
French officials insisted he was not calling for the EU to challenge the power of the US but merely recognising the "new reality" of today's world. They stressed the points of agreement with Mr Blair, who rejected "unilateralism for its own sake" in a major foreign affairs speech on Monday.
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