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The surrender

By Vaiju Naravane

France, Germany and Russia have decided it is futile and counterproductive, even hurtful to their own interest, to publicly oppose Washington.

PARIS, BERLIN, Moscow. The rebels who dared oppose Washington over the Iraq war have capitulated. To America's great satisfaction, the surrender took place in France on the eve of a visit by the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, when the anti-war coalition gave its blessing to the new resolution on Iraq, effectively recognising American and British control over it without setting any deadline for the installation of an Iraqi Government.

The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, tried to put a brave face on it. "In voting for this resolution France has remained true to its principles. This text does not legitimise the war. It opens a path to the peace we shall have to build together. The uncertainty and confusion on the ground call for urgent measures. We have made a choice in favour of unity and international responsibility," he said, justifying France's abrupt decision to quietly drop its reservations about some of the clauses in the resolution.

The French are not alone in this. Just last month, France, Germany and Russia were stubbornly holding out for "suspending" the 13-year-long sanctions against Iraq as against their outright removal urged by Washington. Only the United Nations Security Council and its weapons inspection arm, UNMOVIC, they argued, was in a position to declare Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction, a pre-condition for the lifting of U.N.-imposed sanctions. All three have decided it is futile and counterproductive, even hurtful to their own interest, to publicly oppose Washington.

Only a week ago, on May 20, the French President, Jacques Chirac, was hinting at a possible abstention at the United Nations if the U.N. was not given a greater role. And this week, he once again refused to mince his words or hide his continued opposition to the war by declaring: "A war that lacks legitimacy does not acquire legitimacy just because it has been won." His brave words were however belied by his country's actions.

While the U.S. and Britain agreed to introduce substantial changes in the resolution to accommodate some of the objections of the anti-war camp, it is clearly the rebels who have had to make the greater concessions. During the successive visits to Paris by the U.S. Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, and more recently, Gen. Powell, French Ministers bent over backwards to give the impression that Franco-U.S. relations were positively on the mend, that all was forgiven and forgotten. "Franco-U.S. relations are excellent," gushed Mr. De Villepin.

But the U.S. was having none of that. Gen. Powell was blunt, dour and unsmiling. "You take note of those who disagree with you and try to find out why, and, if it's appropriate, to draw some conclusions, and consequences follow those conclusions. That's the way it is," he said. Which was a polite, roundabout way of saying that France would have to endure public humiliation and private grief as a result of its dogged opposition to the war.

Washington has failed to invite France to the annual Red Flag exercises in Nevada and has both curtailed and downgraded its delegation to the upcoming Paris Air Show. Military-to-military exchange programmes between France and the U.S. will suffer as the Pentagon reviews the various kinds of cooperation it has with Paris. U.S. news media close to the Bush administration such as The Washington Times have launched a smear campaign against the French authorities, alleging that France gave passports and visas to Iraq's fugitive Baathist top brass. So serious were the allegations attributed to unnamed U.S. officials that France felt obliged to lodge an official protest.

The U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, brushed aside any suggestions that any smear campaign was under way. Washington is prepared to play dirty and it is prepared to play rough.

Despite Mr. Chirac's brave words, Paris is cowering. The French leader and his Foreign Minister received admiration and kudos from many citizens around the world for the bold stand against a U.S. administration hell-bent on ousting Saddam Hussein as part of a greater strategy to re-organise the Middle East. Governments were predictably more measured in their praise, preferring to watch from the sidelines.

Now that the war is over, France finds it has lost both clout and prestige. France is hosting the G-8 industrialised nations' summit this year at the spa town of Evian along the Swiss border from June 1-3. France's relations with the U.S. could make or break the summit. Initially, there was uncertainty as to whether the U.S. President, George W. Bush, would agree to an overnight halt in France. Then about whether he would agree to a tete-a-tete with Mr. Chirac. Washington viewed the new U.N. resolution on Iraq as a test of Paris' desire to make amends. That first hurdle has now been crossed.

Although the fight against global terrorism and the reinforcement of international security will be a hot topic, the Evian summit will probably skirt the question of Iraq to concentrate on less controversial matters such as kick-starting the flagging world economy. Mr. Chirac will attempt to place issues such as development aid and debt relief, the environment or developing country access to expensive drugs — subjects where divergences are both recognised and permitted under Washington's new rule book — back on the agenda. India is one of 15 "significant" countries invited to take part in pre-summit consultations.

The bending of Paris, Berlin and Moscow to Washington's baton has deeper ramifications that go beyond the success or failure of summit meetings. The next few months will reveal whether Washington is serious in its attempts to create a split within Europe by dealing bilaterally with individual countries rather than with the European Union as a single unified entity.

"Disaggregation" as the practice is known, is likely to become the new American policy. Coupled with U.S. plans for a geo-strategic shift within NATO, whereby the focus will move eastwards to the former Soviet Union's satellite states, this could spell disaster for further European construction or integration, maintaining Europe in its present position of military dwarfdom.

The position of countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic at the heart of Europe is of particular interest to Washington. NATO forces would be brought closer to the Middle East and the Caucasus, a platform that only Turkey was able to provide so far.

The question of NATO and European security has E.U. members split right down the middle. There are those like France, Germany or Belgium who feel Europe must become a military heavyweight in its own right if it wishes to carve out its own identity, unity and escape Washington's heavy-boot foreign policy. Mr. Chirac defines Europe as a self-contained pole, functioning against, in opposition or as a counterweight to U.S. domination. Britain's Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi or Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, to name a few, argue that multiple poles would mean a world of new rivalries and instability.

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