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U.S. warns France it will pay for opposition to war

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration has warned France that it will pay a price for having led the effort to thwart the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the latest sign that hard feelings generated in the run-up to the war won't dissipate quickly.

The warnings came after a White House review this week of U.S. policy toward France, and they continue a trend by President Bush of punishing nations that cross him, even allies such as Canada and Germany.

American officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, declined to provide many specifics of how relations with France, an ally of the United States since the Revolutionary War, will change.

They said Wednesday that no final decisions had been made and that much would depend on whether French President Jacques Chirac proved cooperative in the rebuilding of postwar Iraq.

Washington and Paris are in the middle of another tussle over the United Nations' role in Iraq, including how quickly to revoke sanctions, whether to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors and the world body's role in forming a post-Saddam Hussein government.

On Tuesday, France moved partway toward the U.S. position that sanctions on Iraq should be lifted immediately, proposing that most sanctions be suspended for now.

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed appreciation for the change in a telephone call Wednesday with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, according to French news reports.

But in a television interview Tuesday night on "The Charlie Rose Show" on PBS, Powell responded simply "yes" when asked if there were consequences for France for opposing the United States.

"We have to look at all aspects of our relationship with France in light of this," Powell said.

France rallied opposition within the U.N. Security Council to a U.S.-backed resolution that would have given explicit authority for the war. France pledged to use its veto to defeat the measure.

American officials tried to soften the blow of Powell's remarks, which caused a minor uproar in France, saying he was merely describing the current state of relations.

"I think you're watching the consequences. And the consequences are still with us, and the consequences are a somewhat strained relationship between the United States and France," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Fleischer suggested that France's move on the sanctions issue was meant to patch up relations, adding that the White House welcomed the step. "We believe that there are more to go," he said.

A senior State Department official said that one step Washington might take was to work through the military arm of NATO, which France abandoned in 1966, rather than its political arm, the North Atlantic Council. France is a member of the latter.

NATO used its Defense Policy Committee before the war to skirt France's objections to giving additional protection to NATO member Turkey in case of an attack by Iraq.

The State Department official, who requested anonymity, said the Bush administration was prepared to use the same tactic if France had blocked its proposal for NATO to assume control of the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

France also may suffer when it comes to awarding contracts to rebuild Iraq.

Powell said in recent testimony to Congress that a new Iraqi government was likely to remember which countries were members of the coalition that overthrew Saddam and which were not.

De Villepin and other French officials on Wednesday emphasized their desire for unity on the Iraq issue. De Villepin called Powell on Wednesday partly in alarm over the news reports, partly to do other business, the State Department official said.

"Relations between France and the United States are good. We are friends and are allies," said the French foreign minister, who was in Jordan on his way to Iran. "There's no reasons for the measures you have mentioned," he told a reporter, apparently referring to Powell's remarks.

"We want to work in a very pragmatic way," added a French diplomat, who asked not to be named. "It's no time for divisions. It's no time for polemics."

Bitterness against France is especially strong in the Pentagon. State Department officials tend to stress the benefits of foreign alliances, no matter how stormy.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, asked whether Washington would punish other nations, such as Mexico, that opposed U.S. policy, seemed to place France in a special category.

"The disagreements with France were much more acute. France just didn't disagree with our policy, they actively lobbied against it," Boucher said.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.