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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
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
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick