PARIS, May 15 (UPI) -- A senior American diplomat said Thursday that France had a key opportunity to improve relations with the United States in the same forum that witnessed bitter clashes between the two countries -- the United Nations.
"The current debate that's beginning at the U.N. Security Council is an important opportunity to get things right," Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, told reporters during a visit to Paris.
"It will obviously have a tremendous impact on the future of Iraq," he said. "But I also think it has the potential to have a significant impact on U-S-French relations, and transatlantic relations."
Upcoming trips to France -- first by Secretary of State Colin Powell and later by President George W. Bush -- would provide other opportunities to begin healing the transatlantic rift. Powell is due in Paris next week, and Bush is expected to attend the June G-8 summit in Evian, France.
France and the United States clashed bitterly in the United Nations over whether to wage war against the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. But in Paris, Haass expressed confidence the current U.N. debate would not echo the months-long Security Council standoff before the war.
And although French officials have only called for suspending sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. diplomat suggested Washington would win its effort to lift them entirely.
"I'm fairly upbeat on the potential to come to an agreement on this resolution," Haass said, adding, "I do not see this becoming a replay of what happened several months ago at the United Nations.
Haass also said it was important to focus on areas of bilateral agreement with France -- such as counter-terrorism cooperation -- and to "fence off" areas of disagreement between the two countries.
And while he would not spell out how the Bush administration would make good threats to may France "pay" for opposing the war, Haass suggested Paris was already smarting.
"It's reputation in the United States has taken a hit," he said. "And on one level, you see it with the jokes and all that. But the fact is France's reputation in the United States is not what it was."
With the war over, French officials have announced they were adopting a "pragmatic" approach to international issues. But differences remain between Paris and Washington.
In an interview published in France's Le Monde newspaper this week, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin reiterated French insistence that the U.N. play a central role in post-war Iraq -- contrary to Washington's plans. He also called for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to be included in Middle East peace negotiations -- which Israel and the United States have ruled out.
For its part, Washington has criticized a defense summit last month between four European leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac.
In Paris, Haass also criticized Chirac's vision of a multi-polar world -- presumably as a check to U-S power -- as "undesirable and unsustainable."
"I simply have doubts...as to the ability of France to provide a balance," Haass added, of the clear difference in strength between the U.S. and France. " I don't mean this in any disrespect. I think there's simply a disequilibrium of power."
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