The First Ladies' Club: Mme Chirac backs Hillary

John Lichfield
Saturday 24 November 2007 01:00

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign will win a glowing endorsement today from an unexpected source – Bernadette Chirac, the former first lady of France.

To win the support of a Chirac may not be every US presidential candidate's dream. Nonetheless, Mme Chirac hopes that Ms Clinton – a friend since they were first ladies together in the late 1990s – will find a place for her on her campaign.

"If I can be of any use to her somewhere ... I'm available," Mme Chirac told Le Figaro Magazine in an interview published today. "I'd like to go with her and I'm going to suggest it to her."

Mme Chirac said she would especially welcome an invitation to the Democratic Convention next August – provided Ms Clinton wins the party nomination. "That would interest me enormously," she said.

In theory, the two women should disagree about everything. Ms Clinton is a standard-bearer for women's rights and women's place in frontline politics. Mme Chirac is deeply conservative, married to a man often accused in the US of being anti-American.

But the pair have been close friends for a decade. In 1998, Mme Chirac invited Ms Clinton to join herfor a visit to the small town in the Corrèze department, in south-western France, where she is a councillor.

Mme Chirac told the magazine, as part of a profile of Ms Clinton: "She's a woman who is not liked by everybody. But she's strong and she has convictions. Her capacity to absorb complex information is striking. She has prodigious intelligence. She has a strong character but she is always smiling and is a great professional".

Mme Chirac, who once admitted that she had been wounded by her own husband's extra-marital antics, said she had been especially impressed by Ms Clinton's behaviour during the Monica Lewinsky affair. "She was exceptional. The whole world admired her courage," she said. Throughout the entire period of her husband's impeachment, following an affair with the White House intern, she "stayed by his side" and "in my opinion, she saved him", Mme Chirac said.

The former French first lady surprised many commentators during the French presidential campaign last spring by expressing her admiration for the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal. She supported her husband's estranged former protégé, Nicolas Sarkozy, but said Mme Royal had the "look" and character to succeed.

Attempts to bring Mme Royal and Ms Clinton together during the French campaign came to nothing. Senator Clinton is said to have been angered by Mme Royal's comments criticising American policy in the Israeli-Palestine dispute.

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