| Time to worry: Chirac
Washington, May 25: American defence chiefs have banned the French from two international military exercises in retaliation for their opposition to the war in Iraq.
In what the Americans describe as a “re-examination” of their military activities, the Pentagon has informed the French air force that it is not welcome at exercises code-named Red Flag in Nevada next March and Cope Thunder in Alaska four months later.
Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, has also warned France that the US military will scale down its participation in this year’s Paris air show and limit the involvement of American officials who do attend. US aircraft will not fly at the show.
“With troops eating military rations in the dust in Iraq, it’s not appropriate for officers to be wined and dined in Paris,” said a Pentagon official.
The snubs come ahead of next weekend’s summit of the heads of state of the G8 nations in the French Alpine town of Evian.
US President George W. Bush will meet President Jacques Chirac on French soil for the first time since the Iraq crisis crippled relations between the two countries.
The meeting could be held against the backdrop of a 300,000 strong anti-war protest. The first signs of fence-mending emerged last week when France reluctantly backed the UN resolution to authorise the occupying powers in Iraq and end sanctions.
After the vote, Chirac spoke by telephone to Bush for the first time since the Iraq war, and a spokesman for the French president said the two men “expressed their willingness to work together” during their 10-minute conversation.
However, Chirac still wants a French-led counterweight to America’s domination of the international stage.
A Western diplomat in Paris said: “The main object of G8 will be to get through it and avoid having a problem. Everyone will be on their best behaviour. But forgiving and forgetting' I’m not so sure about that.”
The two men have not yet agreed to meet separately away from the formal G8 sessions. “Chirac will not thank me for saying this, but it will really depend on how far Bush wants to go to kiss and make up,” said the diplomat.
Continuing French anger at America’s attitude was summed up by Pascal Boniface, the director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “Washington won’t accept the slightest contradiction. They think anyone with a political position different to theirs, and willing to defend it, needs to be made to feel guilty.”