France walks tightrope over Iraq

Policing Saddam

France will continue to take part in allied air patrols of the original no-fly zone over southern Iraq, but will not patrol the extension of the zone declared by the United States earlier this week. The decision, contained in a French foreign-ministry statement issued after the departure from Paris of the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, means that France will maintain its involvement in the western alliance on existing terms and an open split between France and other members of the alliance has been averted.

However, the decision also allows France to remain publicly aloof from the US cruise missile attacks on northern Iraq and the extension of the no-fly zone that accompanied them. While not actually condemning the US action, France has said that Baghdad was within its rights to deploy forces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq and that any measures taken should be agreed by the United Nations. It has also insisted that Iraq's territorial integrity should be preserved.

When the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, announced in response to the US attacks that Iraq would cease to observe the two UN-imposed no-fly zones in the north and south of the country, France made no comment. The clear distinction between France's view of the US raids and that of its major European allies, Britain and Germany, earned France inclusion in a special message of thanks sent by Saddam Hussein which also went to Russia and China.

The French foreign ministry statement was issued at the end of Mr Christopher's five-hour visit to Paris, sandwiched between meetings in London and Bonn. Although planned weeks before, the US Secretary of State's whistle-stop European tour assumed new significance after the raids on Iraq, and the visit to Paris became crucial.

France's agreement to continue patrolling the original no-fly zone, however, seems the least that Mr Christopher could have hoped for. US officials made no secret of the fact that they hoped France could be persuaded to support Washington's position. The French defence ministry had earlier confirmed that French planes had taken part in patrols over the southern no-fly zone since the US attacks, but had not gone north of the 32nd parallel. Washington extended the zone to the 33rd parallel. While France is being widely portrayed as hostile to the US action, and is doing nothing to counter that impression, its actual position may be more ambiguous. Mr Chirac himself has so far said nothing on the issue. He did, however, receive the US ambassador to France on Wednesday evening, Ms Pamela Harriman, as a prelude to Mr Christopher's visit.

Over the past few days there has been some discrepancy about how far France has acted on its apparent disapproval for US action. The foreign ministry on Tuesday initially said that French planes would not take part in further patrols of the no-fly zones. This was later contested by Washington, and then corrected by the French defence ministry.

What evidence there is suggests France is engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to maintain its recent commercial and diplomatic opening to Iraq, to reserve the possibility of a future intermediary role between the Arab world and the US, and also to ensure that its recent rapprochement with Nato is not jeopardised. Lost in all the juggling is any sense of a common European position. There has been no European consultation on the situation in Iraq - and it appears there will be none.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project