War in the Balkans: Nato Troops - France and Nato deny report of US distrust

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The Independent Online
FRANCE AND Nato yesterday vehemently denied a British press report that suggested France was not trusted by its allies to play a full-blooded part in the Balkan war.

The report, in The Daily Telegraph, said the United States was refusing to share its most secret plans and intelligence with France. Last year a French major at Nato headquarters was arrested for passing information to Serbia on likely alliance bombing targets. Earlier, another major was withdrawn from Bosnia after becoming too close to the Bosnian- Serb military.

To that extent, the fears in Washington reported by The Daily Telegraph are grounded in undisputed fact. But yesterday both Nato and the French government categorically denied any suggestion that the US was withholding information from France or any other ally.

The US is notoriously reluctant to share all its intelligence information with any ally, including Britain. There may be some information that - given the pro-Serb leanings of a few French officers - Washington prefers to keep to itself.

France is not in the military wing of Nato but it is at the heart of the Nato air assault on Serbia, with 53 aircraft engaged (more than any country save the US and Britain).

France has traditional ties to Serbia but 70 per cent of French people - more than in Britain or the US - support the Nato campaign. The govern- ment is divided between a right-wing president and a left- wing prime minister, but both men - and most of the French press - have strongly supported Nato from the beginning.

The article suggested that Washington was waiting for the French to drop out of the Nato attacks and start to pursue their own diplomatic initiatives, possibly through Russia. French and American officials rejected that possibility.

They said the ultimatum to the Serbs flowed from a Franco-British initiative, supported by Washington. The defeat of President Slobodan Milosevic and the protection of Kosovo Albanians is seen in Paris as a moral and strategic imperative for Western Europe: not something dictated by an American agenda.