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Published:August 12th, 2007 09:58 EST
France's Sarkozy May Help Turn Page on Franco-American Relations

France's Sarkozy May Help Turn Page on Franco-American Relations

By SOP newswire

Washington -- One of the most beloved U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson, asked himself, In what country on earth would you rather live? " He first answered, Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations and the earliest and sweetest affections and recollections of my life. "  But, he continued, which would be your second choice? " His answer: France. "

Prior to his presidency, Jefferson had served from 1784 to 1789 as the U.S. ambassador to France, where he witnessed and cheered on the spirit of the 1789 French Revolution, which he saw as consistent with the ideals that inspired the American colonies to break away from their rulers in Great Britain.  The successful outcome of America`s 1775-1783 revolution came largely as a result of French assistance.

Yet in recent years, the bilateral relationship has been described as cold and marked by competition, reaching a nadir when France and the United States disagreed over the decision forcibly to remove Iraq`s Baathist government from power in 2003.

As President Bush prepares to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Maine August 11, Georgetown University professor and Director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Charles Kupchan says there is reason to believe the two countries will develop a reliable partnership on areas of mutual concern such as the humanitarian situation in Darfur, Sudan, and nuclear weapons nonproliferation.

The United States and France ought to be the closest of allies, and in fact they were, " Kupchan said, in reference to their 18th-century relationship.  The two countries are quite similar in terms of nations " that see themselves as the founding nations of liberal democracy. "

Part of the reason for the icy, even directly competitive relations " is this similarity, he said: They have vied for the same position of leadership of the so-called "free world.` "

Former French President and U.S. World War II ally Charles de Gaulle created the modern formula of challenging the United States in order to assert France`s nationalism and autonomy, Kupchan said, and ever since the two countries often have engaged in a childish game of one-upmanship " where even if they shared a common interest, each has been suspicious that the other side is seeking to undermine its power, or to assert their own.

Those perceptions are sometimes correct, but often they are not, he said, but these views are kind of embedded in the bureaucracy and in the public imagination. "

Sarkozy may be the French leader that can get us past this era of Franco-American rivalry, " Kupchan said, although change likely will come slowly and incrementally. " He said he expects that the two countries will turn a page " in their relationship.  The United States is currently in a pragmatic help mode, " and if France is forthcoming in presenting itself as a reliable partner, Washington would jump at the opportunity, " he said.

Ultimately, both countries are liberal democracies that want the same things for their people and basically the same things for the international system: stability and economic growth. "

The rise not only of Sarkozy but also of Germany`s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is positive for trans-Atlantic relations.  You now have in the core of Europe two leaders that are Atlanticists and are also pro-European Union, " Kupchan said.  This is a new development, because leaders previously had been one or the other.  Now it will be easier for a strong EU to be a partner of the United States rather than a competitor because the leadership on both sides doesn`t see it as a zero-sum game. "

But Kupchan said Bush should not expect Sarkozy to play the role of a go-to person " in Europe, citing the French leader`s demonstrations of independence even from other European leaders, such as asserting himself in the case of securing the release of Bulgarian medical workers in Libya or nominating a new head of the International Monetary Fund without consulting his German partners.

He is clearly someone who is going to leave his mark on policy.  Sometimes it will be in lock step with the United States and other times not, " Kupchan said.

The professor said France likely will continue to distance itself from issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  The places where I think you`ll see growing U.S.-French cooperation are Darfur " [and] on Iran to try to tighten the sanctions.  He seems to be quite intent on containing Iran`s nuclear program. " 

The United States and France also can cooperate on encouraging economic development in Africa, especially North Africa, where the two share the goal of combating religious extremism in Muslim-majority countries.  And both have a strong interest in supporting Lebanon`s democratically elected government under Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said August 10 that the casual lunch between the two leaders and their families at Kennebunkport offers a good opportunity " for them to meet. Casey also welcomed the opportunity to work with the new French leadership.

We certainly want to do what we can to work with the French government as well as with all our European friends and partners on the kinds of important issues out there for both of us.  We are always stronger when we`re working together and working in harmony than when we aren`t, " Casey said.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer