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[infowar.de] WPO 15.06.03 France Says It Is Target Of Untruths
May 15, 2003
France Says It Is Target Of Untruths
U.S. Official Calls Claim 'Nonsense'
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post Staff Writer
The French government believes it is the victim of an "organized
campaign of disinformation" from within the Bush administration,
designed to discredit it with allegations of complicity with the Iraqi
government of Saddam Hussein.
In a letter prepared for delivery today to administration officials and
members of Congress, France details what it says are false news stories,
with anonymous administration officials as sources, that appeared in the
U.S. media over the past nine months. A two-page list attached to the
letter includes reports of alleged French weapons sales to Iraq and
culminates in a report last week that French officials in Syria issued
French passports to escaping Iraqis being sought by the U.S. military.
The stories, all of which Paris has heatedly denied, are part of an
"ugly campaign to destroy the image of France," a French official said.
Officials said they have no doubt that the stories were spread by
factions in the administration itself -- hard-line civilians within and
close to the Pentagon are their primary suspects -- and that there was
no visible effort by the White House or other departments to discipline
those involved or even find out who they are.
The unprecedented letter, signed by French Ambassador Jean-David
Levitte, is an indication of the depth and bitterness of the breach
between the two historic allies and NATO partners over the issue of
Iraq. Although French officials maintain they have tried to overcome the
differences and renew the partnership, they say the administration has
expressed little interest in rapprochement.
U.S. officials say they are still angry over France's leading role in
opposing U.N. authorization of the war, and attempts to prevent NATO
from giving Iraq-related security assistance to Turkey, and are
contemplating the future U.S. relationship with France.
But a senior administration official last night dismissed the French
charge of organized disinformation as "utter nonsense."
Administration complaints about a lack of French cooperation on Iraq
have led to public and congressional expressions of anger in recent
months. Campaigns calling for a boycott of French wine and cheese, and
restaurants that have replaced "French fries" with "freedom fries" on
their menus, have amused and worried the French. But French officials
said they have grown increasingly irritated, and are now downright mad,
over the more substantive calumnies alleged in Levitte's letter.
The list begins with a New York Times report in September alleging that,
in 1998, France and Germany had supplied Iraq with high-precision
switches used in detonating nuclear weapons. A denial issued at the time
said that Iraq had indeed ordered the switches as "spare parts" for
medical equipment, but that French authorities barred the sale and
alerted the Germans.
In November, The Washington Post quoted an "American intelligence
source" saying that France possessed prohibited strains of the human
smallpox virus. The French Embassy issued a sharp denial and said it
strictly complied with World Health Organization and its own national
restrictions on such substances. In March, the Washington Times quoted a
"U.S. intelligence source" as saying that two French companies had sold
Iraq spare parts for airplanes and helicopters. The next day, the two
companies named in the story, and the embassy, formally denied it.
Stories citing sales of chemical components for long-range missiles,
armored vehicles, radar equipment and spare parts for fighter planes
were reported, and denied, in April.
The most damaging story, however, came on May 6, when the Washington
Times said that France had helped Iraqi leaders wanted by the United
States escape to Europe by providing them with French passports,
according to an anonymous "American intelligence source." The story said
that officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House
were angered by the alleged French action.
Levitte immediately called the White House, which assured him that the
story was not true, a French official said. Washington Post inquiries at
the White House, the State Department and the CIA elicited similar
assurances that they were aware of no such intelligence information. The
French Embassy issued a categorical denial.
Asked that day about the report, White House and State Department
spokesmen offered lukewarm statements saying that they had no
information and suggesting that reporters ask the French. Two days
later, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.
(R-Wis.) called for the Homeland Security Department to investigate
Strong French complaints to the administration brought a May 9 statement
by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher saying, "We don't have any
information that would indicate the French issued passports or visas to
Iraqi officials. . . .We don't have anything that would substantiate the
But the next day, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was again
asked about the report, he replied: "France has historically had a very
close relationship with Iraq. My understanding is that it continued
right up until the outbreak of the war. What took place thereafter,
we'll find out."
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422 Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81
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