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Bush slams Texas ranch door on Chirac

Washington, April 25 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush, miffed over France’s opposition to the Iraq war, yesterday said French President Jacques Chirac should not expect an invitation to his Texas ranch any time soon.

A visit to Bush’s 1,600-acre property in Crawford is considered something of an honour and a reward. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally who sent troops to Iraq, will be at the ranch next month. Bush’s other major supporters on Iraq, Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, have also been invited.

In an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Bush was asked if he would invite Chirac. “I doubt he’ll be coming to the ranch any time soon,” Bush replied. Bush said there were “some strains” in ties between Washington and Paris because it “appeared to some in our administration and our country that the French position was anti-American.”

Relations between Washington and Paris have been chilled by France’s staunch opposition to the US-led war with Iraq.

Stressing the need to maintain Nato unity, Bush expressed hope that “the past tensions will subside and the French won’t be using their position within Europe to create alliances against the US or Britain or Spain or any of the new countries that are the new democracies in Europe.”

Earlier yesterday, the White House quashed speculation that Bush would not stay overnight in France during his trip to the Group of Eight economic summit in Evian on Lake Geneva later this spring.

“The President will be overnighting in France,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters as Bush flew to Ohio to discuss the economy and Iraq. “There were never plans for him to overnight anywhere else.”

US officials have sought to tread carefully between venting their anger at France for its vow to veto any UN resolution authorising the war and the need to maintain working ties to one of the US’ longest-standing allies.

Secretary of state Colin Powell answered with a single word — “yes” — when asked this week if France would suffer consequences. He then spoke to French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin the next day and an aide said the two laughed about the headlines his comment drew.

While US officials are circumspect in public, their pique shows up in gestures like the US Congress renaming French fries “freedom fries” and Air Force One serving “Freedom Toast” rather than “French toast.”.

One in three consumers in the US are ready to boycott goods from France and Germany over the two countries’ opposition to the US-British invasion of Iraq, according to a survey released today.

The survey also showed that US citizens were more angry with France — 43 per cent of those questioned saying they were less likely to buy French products — than with Germany, whose goods were likely to be scorned by only 36 per cent.

The survey, organised by Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading public relations agencies, followed another earlier this week showing that an average of 12 per cent of people in France, Germany and Britain would boycott US products over the war.

“The war may be over, but consumers — particularly those in the US — are not ready to disarm,” said Weber Shandwick chairman Jack Leslie in a comment on the results.

‘Sahaf’s my man’

Now that the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein appears to be over, even President Bush admits he is a fan of the public relations style of former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

“He’s my man, he was great,” Bush enthused in an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw yesterday.

“Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic.”

Bush said he had made a point of watching Sahaf, as well as scenes such as the toppling of a huge bronze likeness of Saddam Hussein.

“I did watch some of his clips,” he said. “I get a lot of things second-hand, but in the case of the statue or Sahaf, somebody would say, he’s getting ready to speak and I’d pop out of a meeting or turn and watch the TV.”

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