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
News
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts during a news conference in Zurich June 1, 2011
news
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
News
peopleKatie Hopkins criticises River Island's 'seize the day' bags for trying to normalise epilepsy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey