Monitor Breakfast with Ambassador Jean David Levitte

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on US-French relations.

France's ambassador to the US, Jean David Levitte, took up his duties in Washington last December.

Before that, he was France's permanent representative to the United Nations, where he was posted for two years.

The ambassador is a lawyer and a linguist. In addition to his native French, he speaks English, Chinese, and Indonesian.

On the state of US-French relations:

"It is difficult to say it is at an all-time low. But certainly it is an important crisis. It is a strange situation. We have been side by side with the United States since the very early days of your fight for independence. You saved us twice during the two world wars and we will never forget that. Of course there has been crisis in the past but I agree with you this time it is probably the most difficult moment in our relations for decades. Certainly on our side there is a strong will to do whatever possible to maintain our relations and to work together."

On relations between President Bush and President Chirac:

"What is important for me is to see that the relations between our two presidents remain good. And I consider that they remain good. They are on the phone quite often. Of course they disagree but they maintain warm relations and that is very important. We may disagree on the time for a possible war with Iraq but when the time will come to think about the future of Iraq, of the Middle East, we will be together. We have to be together. Because to rebuild Iraq is a daunting task. And my guess is that you will not do that alone. So you will need friends and allies to participate in the job as we participate in the common fight against terror."

On whether France wants to restrain US power:

"We don't want to restrain US military power or any US power in the world. The risk of today's world, in our view, is not too much power from the United States, it is not enough power from failed states. If we have terror networks like Al Qaeda it is because you have failed states like Afghanistan, Somalia, I could have a long list of failed states..... I don't see any problem with the military might of the United States. I see a problem with not enough military might for European powers."

On French bashing:

"French bashing may be a game in the United States but it is a dangerous game because it fuels anti-Americanism in France at the moment when we don't have anti-American feelings."

On French view of America:

"As you look at the polls it is amazing. [An overwhelming number of] French people feel very positive about American people, American culture, American civilization. We are massively against the war ...but massively in favor of the American people."

On rebuilding Iraq:

"We don't see participation in the reconstruction of Iraq as a privilege, we see [it] as a moral duty. To rebuild Iraq will be very costly. When I read that Iraq is a very rich country, you have to know that for the past years all exports of Iraq [earned] only $15 billion a year, and out of this, 25 percent goes to Kuwait because Kuwait suffered major destruction in the occupation by Iraq.... what is left is just enough to feed the Iraqi people through oil for food program. The oil for food program will be stopped when the war starts... Then will come the time immediately after the war to rebuild the whole country. But you don't have billions of dollars for that. You don't have money.

So the choice is either for the United go alone and pay the bill or to involve others to pay and participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. And the cost in our view will be huge. We consider for that it will be much better to have the kind of UN umbrella as we have for instance in Afghanistan where we are together ...."

On whether war can be prevented:

If the United States wants to start this war soon, President Bush has stated that with or without a UN resolution, he would decide to go. And of course we respect that view. That is not our view. That is a democratic debate. But we consider for the time being, as long as the inspections produce results, [we] should allow the inspectors to proceed."

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