AH, THE FRENCH.
With all the diplomatic surefootedness and sophistication that anti-war critics see lacking in the Bush Administration. Compare this to the furor over Rumsfeld's brief " Old Europe " comment. From the Telegraph.
Villepin refuses to say which side he supports
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
France's attempt to repair relations with America and Britain over Iraq backfired yesterday when Dominique de Villepin, their foreign minister, refused to say which side he supported.
During a speech in London, M de Villepin said he hoped for "a swift conclusion with the minimum possible number of casualties".
But asked by The Telegraph whether he hoped American and British forces would win the military campaign to remove Saddam Hussein, he replied angrily: "I'm not going to answer. You have not been listening carefully to what I said before. You already have the answer."
M de Villepin had come to London to mend fences after the bitter disputes over the failed attempt to secure a UN resolution authorising war, saying: "We must rebuild the world order shattered by the Iraq crisis."
But his apparent reluctance to choose sides will have done serious damage to his charm offensive. Senior British officials said they were "stunned".
Embarrassed French officials tried to salvage the situation by pointing out that, on French television on Monday, M de Villepin said: "Clearly, we hope the US will win this war quickly."
One diplomat said: "We have no hesitation about where we stand."
But M de Villepin's faux pas is likely to harden suspicion in America and Britain of his demands that the UN take over the administration and rebuilding of Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Michael Ancram, shadow foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It is beyond belief that the French foreign minister was unable to bring himself to look forward to a coalition victory and the liberation of the people of Iraq from the tyranny and oppression.
"France appears to be backing herself into a corner from which she cannot get out." M de Villepin, who speaks fluent English, did not meet any British ministers when he came to London to deliver a lecture to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
However he briefly met Sir Michael Jay, former ambassador to Paris and now head of the Diplomatic Service.
The Foreign Office said no snub was intended as the Foreign Secretary was with the Prime Minister at Camp David. "Jack Straw said he would have been happy to meet M de Villepin had he been in London," said a spokesman.
In his address, M de Villepin said France was ready to re-establish a "close and trusting relationship with the United States".
But his comments made clear that the rift is far from being bridged.
Moreover M de Villepin did himself few favours with Washington when, recalling the "bleakest time in our history" during the Second World War, he extolled Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle but left out Franklin D Roosevelt's role in the liberation of France.
M de Villepin argued that the use of force should be subordinated to "law, justice and legitimacy" if it was not to provoke a "clash of civilisations".
He seemed more concerned with the need to constrain America's doctrine of "pre-emptive" action than removing the danger posed by Saddam.
He spoke more about the "destabilising" effect of America's resort to force than the destabilising impact of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states.
M de Villepin derided American hawks for believing that "democracy can be imposed from the outside" and that "international legal tools become constraints more than safeguards of international security".
He said: "We do not oppose the use of force. We are only warning against the risk of pre-emptive strikes as a doctrine. In endorsing this doctrine, we risk introducing the principle of constant instability and uncertainty." Despite the disagreements over Iraq, M de Villepin said there were many areas where united international action needed to intensify.
He said there should be greater intelligence sharing in the campaign against terrorism, and co-operation to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Highlighting the looming crisis in North Korea, he proposed a permanent group of UN weapons inspectors. Having threatened to veto UN approval for military action, M de Villepin insisted: "The UN must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq. The legitimacy of our action depends on it."
M de Villepin's central message was that a world dominated by a supremely powerful America was dangerously unstable. Instead, there should be "a number of regional poles" that co-operate with each other.
One of those would be the European Union and M de Villepin was keen to draw the British Government into a common foreign and security policy that would be dominated by France and Britain