PARIS_Different approaches, same goal _ that's how both American and French
diplomats are describing their joint efforts to end the fighting in Lebanon.
Despite occasional bursts of French anger reminiscent of the rancor between
Paris and Washington before the Iraq war, U.S.-French cooperation is fueling
optimism that they have at last turned the page on that painful period _ and
that together, they may even find a solution to the latest Middle East
"We're certainly getting close" to a U.N. resolution, U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday. "We're working with the French very
Her French counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, echoed: "We are working well
with the Americans, working night and day."
The round-the-clock diplomatic activity _ at the United Nations, in
trans-Atlantic phone calls, closed-door embassy meetings and talks on the
sidelines of international events _ hasn't been trouble-free.
When fighting broke out July 12, France quickly and firmly condemned Israeli
airstrikes against Lebanon _ a former French protectorate _ while the U.S.
government stood firmly by Israel.
Some feared Washington and Paris were headed for a repeat of 2003, when
France rallied opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, prompting the
deepest rift in relations in decades.
But this time, the two nations say they have the same ultimate goal:
disarming Hezbollah and establishing a sturdy, violence-free Lebanon. They
just differ on how to get there.
France demands a cease-fire before any international force is sent in, while
the United States wants steps toward a durable peace before asking Israel to
hold its fire.
In a phone call, French President Jacques Chirac told U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan: "We are looking for solutions acceptable to everyone, and we are
trying to narrow the gap between the different positions."
Tensions at the United Nations over the past week centered on the cease-fire
question. France scuttled a meeting of possible contributors to a force,
saying it wasn't worth discussing a force without a cease-fire. By Thursday,
Rice signaled that the United States might be willing to compromise, and
predicted a resolution within days.
"We're not in an Iraq configuration," said a French diplomat, speaking on
condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. "Our
point of view is understood, and is progressing because events are proving
One key reason for the U.S.-French cooperation, observers say, is that
France is expected to contribute to, and possibly lead, a multinational
force for Lebanon. And no force will work unless it has full U.S. support.
"It has been absolutely clear from the beginning, to all sides, that France
can play an important role in the current crisis" because of its ties to
Lebanon and relatively good standing in the Arab world, said Francois Gere,
director of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis.
Some French politicians have lashed out at the United States for not calling
for a cease-fire. Presidential hopeful and former culture minister Jack Lang
called Bush a "fanatic" whose policies in the Middle East have encouraged
Even the foreign minister didn't rule out a heightening of U.S.-French
tensions last weekend and stressed, sounding frustrated, how "completely
different" the U.S. and French approaches were.
But Gere said the remarks were aimed at domestic and Arab world audiences.
"France is not looking to oppose the American position," Gere said, but is
"showing our interest in Lebanon and our very strong concern for the
Meanwhile, average Americans appear to be warming to their former French
A Pew Global Attitude poll in June showed 52 percent of Americans surveyed
now have a favorable impression of the French, nearly double the 29 percent
The biggest sign of conciliation came last week at the U.S. congressional
cafeteria: French fries and french toast are back. So long, "freedom fries,"
renamed by Republicans in the House of Representatives ahead of the Iraq