In early March, while meeting with French officials in Libya, I suggested that if President Chirac wanted to repair the damage done to U.S.-French relations by French behavior last year, he might start by “putting a new face on French diplomacy.”
Just three weeks later, Chirac announced that he was replacing foreign minister Dominique de Villepin with the relatively unknown, but pro-American, Michel Barnier.
Known for his arrogance and love for grandstanding, Villepin was reviled in America for having sandbagged U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations last year, a disgraceful episode I have detailed in my new book, The French Betrayal of America.
Prancing around the world like an over-wound ballet dancer to line up votes against America at the United Nations, Villepin never lost an opportunity to blast America’s “hegemony” in world affairs.
His replacement at the Quai d’Orsay, Michel Barnier, hosted a nongovernmental conference on transatlantic relations last November in Paris that was attended by U.S. Ambassador Dan Freed, the National Security Council director for European affairs.
Two participants at that conference â€” one French, one American â€” tell me that Barnier displayed a “pragmatic approach” toward U.S.-French relations in marked contrast to his predecessor.
“Michel Barnier is much less arrogant than Villepin, and will have a very different approach” when differences between the United States and France come up, a French participant said.
“We’re ready to work with the French and their new team, and have lots on the joint agenda,” a U.S. official said. Uppermost on that agenda are preparations for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6.0