Thursday, April 10, 2003
The "Reckoning" - 10th April 2003, 21.35

Jack Straw and Dominique De Villepin met yesterday to discuss postwar Iraq and European matters although only the former appeared to have been covered by the media. Both Britain and France agreed that the United Nations would play a role in Iraq although as the Washington Post, neither endorsed the other's position. Even under the dominant interpretation of the story, such as the China Post's straightforward headline, "France, Britain agree on U.N. role", this agreement melted away:

The foreign ministers of Britain and France, downplaying differences that preceded war in Iraq, said Wednesday that the United Nations must have a role in the country's reconstruction but gave no indication that they agreed on details of how that might happen.

It could be argued that France made a more dramatic concession with its acceptance that order in Iraq was the responsibility and the concern of coalition forces, moving away from its intransigent opposition to the war. However, both politicians were concerned to show the areas of common interest that united both countries: the Middle East peace process and Europe.

In Paris on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of France and Britain, two countries on opposite sides of the European schism over whether to go to war, tried to look beyond the Iraq crisis, agreeing on the urgent need for a new diplomatic initiative to end the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, to find evidence of the agreement of Straw and De Villepin in Europe proves rather more difficult. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides an (edited) transcript of the press conference, revealing that Straw hoped they would co-operate on the European Convention whilst De Villepin urged a "relaunch" of Europe. However, when asked if he wished Britain to be represented at the 'Old Europe' meeting on defence, arranged for April 29th, Straw ignored the question.

Neither France or Britain could provide firm evidence that the divisions on Iraq had been resolved and, by emphasizing areas of common interest or endeavour, hoped to show that the diplomatic divisions of February had no permanent effects on their relationship. Presumably Blair's reference to a "reckoning" in Europe should be interpreted as a need to ensure that the EU works more effectively, rather than as a wish to undermine the opposition of France and Germany. It would not be the first time that conservatives, seduced by Blair's stance on the war, had read their own wishes into his speeches.

Update: - And as a sign of good faith, Britain (following Europe) tightened its rules to prevent imports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being zero-rated on entry to the EU. In practice, this means that Customs could apply VAT to any Israeli food imports unless they have documented that their point of origin is within the 1967 borders.


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