White House Won't Touch France

Days after French Socialist Presidential hopeful Segolene Royal closed her campaign with some unusually harsh words about George W. Bush, the White House won’t even admit to seeing her comments.

At her closing rally in Toulouse last Thursday, Royal told a wildly cheering crowd of 17,000: “We will not genuflect before George W. Bush.”  She then said: “In Europe, we will defend the emergence of a multipolar world, safe from imperial temptations of another age.”  According to the New York Times, “It was an obvious reference to [conservative rival Nicholas] Sarkozy, who has been criticized severely by his political opponents for proclaiming his admiration for the United States and asking for his photograph to be taken with Mr. Bush at the White House in September.”

Royal’s remarks came a week after she told a crowd of about 4000 in Metz (eastern France) that “I shall not be the one to shake George Bush’s hand like nothing happened, without a word on our tactical and strategic disagreements in fighting religious extremism and terrorism.”

In a first round election in which more than 85% of eligible voters participated, Sarkozy topped the field with 30% of the vote, followed by Royal with 25%.  The two will meet in a run-off May 6th that will determine the successor to retiring President Jacques Chirac.

So what does the White House think of the strong language by someone who could wind up as head of the sixth largest economy in the world and someone the Bush Administration will have to deal with on numerous foreign policy matters?  Reading the quotes of Madame Royal, I asked for the Administration’s reaction at Monday’s White House press briefing.

“I’m going to decline to answer,” replied Acting Press Secretary Dana Perino, “I haven’t heard — I haven’t seen her comments, and I’ll see if I can get back to you.”

Sarkozy’s suggestions that he will try to “rebuild the transatlantic relationship” with the United States and criticism of Chirac’s threat to wield its United Nations veto against the war in Iraq was a mistake are almost sure to provide ammunition for Royal in the next two weeks of campaigning.  She has already said she would act in “continuity” with Chirac’s stand on Iraq and her party has released a 90-page document entitled “French unit of Bush and Company” blasting what it considers Sarkozy’s apologies for the United States.  According to a survey conducted late last year for LeMonde, only six percent of the French have a positive opinion of Bush.