by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS --
is facing U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions as punishment for its opposition to the war in Iraq, according to government sources here.
The U.S. has downgraded its participation in Salon de l'Aeronautique, the French air show next month, and Washington has also excluded France, a NATO ally, from military exercises due later this year.
French military representatives have been barred from meetings in California on links between Galileo, the European satellite programme, and the Global Positioning System, which is the U.S. military plan for satellite identification, and which also serves NATO.
These measures were decided late April as a part of a campaign to punish France for its opposition to the war against Iraq, officials say.
"This anti-French campaign includes a disinformation campaign in which anonymous government officials in Washington spread lies about France," an official told IPS.
French ambassador in Washington Jean-David Levitte denounced this alleged campaign in a letter to President George W. Bush and accused publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek and The Washington Post of assisting it.
"I would like to invite your attention to the disturbing, unacceptable nature of this disinformation campaign, whose aim is to hurt France's image and to deceive the public," Levitte said.
He cited what he called false claims that France gave former Iraqi officials diplomatic passports, and that it had delivered components for chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime.
The official campaign in the U.S. is being backed by a new business war. U.S. companies like Boeing and the oil giant Exxon have launched a drive to push French competitors out of the Mideast market.
Exxon and Boeing recently won contracts in Qatar that had been sought also by their European rivals Total and Airbus. U.S. universities Princeton and Cornell have won contracts to develop campuses in the Qatar capital of Doha over French competition.
French President Jacques Chirac sought to counter U.S. influence at a meeting with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani, in Paris earlier this month.
Chirac's meeting with the Arab leader followed a visit to Qatar by French state secretary for small and middle-sized enterprises Renaud Dutreil in early May. Dutreil was accompanied by representatives of leading French enterprises operating in the Middle East.
Claude de Kemoularia, former French ambassador to Qatar, said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, that "the governments of the region have sympathy for the French diplomatic position, but they recognize that France has no real power to put its position through."
French misgivings rose after the recent tour by Secretary of State Colin Powell of the Middle East, Russia, and Germany. He did not visit Paris.
Powell's visit to Germany particularly annoyed France. Germany also opposed the Anglo-U.S. war, but Powell obtained partial support in Berlin last week for the U.S. proposal to end UN sanctions against Iraq.
France wants sanctions suspended, not lifted, arguing that a UN evaluation of Iraqi disarmament is needed before a decision is taken. This could mean that UN inspectors certify that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, the reason cited by the U.S. to justify the invasion.
In an interview with Le Monde, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin called the U.S. proposal disrespectful of international rules, particularly the Geneva Conventions. De Villepin also criticized U.S. demands for impunity for the occupation forces in Iraq. His views have heightened the wrath of the U.S.
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