Chirac and Blair aim for new entente

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac will make a major effort to repair frayed relations between Britain and France during a summit in London tomorrow.

In contrast to the state visit by George Bush, the meeting between the two European leaders will involve a great deal of detailed negotiation, with a minimum of ceremony and no street demonstrations.

President Chirac will seek to reassure the Prime Minister that his recent proposal for a Franco-German union is not intended to freeze the UK out of a leading role in Europe. Mr Blair will also be anxious to hear him say that there will be no referendum in France on the proposed EU constitution.

Relations between the two leaders are better now than they were 12 months ago, when they were trading verbal blows at an EU summit in Brussels. They reached the low point in March, when the UK held Mr Chirac personally to blame for the failure to obtain a second UN Security Council resolution, which would have given legitimacy to the invasion of Iraq. The pro-war Sun has portrayed Mr Chirac as a worm, while French newspapers have, only slightly more politely, described Mr Blair as an American poodle.

But Mr Blair and Mr Chirac now have a strong mutual interest in being seen to get along. From the French side, Britain is the obvious first stepping stone in the slow business of rebuilding bridges across the Atlantic. Tomorrow he will repeat France's offers to make a modest contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq. There is no prospect yet of it sending combat troops but there is an offer to help train the new Iraqi army and police force.

President Chirac will also try to avoid embarrassing his host by not reminding him publicly of France's pre-invasion warnings about the dangers of occupying Iraq. Instead, the two leaders hope to push forward the discussions on how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale next spring. A royal visit to Paris and a couple of unusual sporting events, to symbolise the integration of French sports stars into the British way of life, are under consideration.

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