U.S. and France Expect a Thaw: "President Bush's dinner with French President Jacques Chirac in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday approaches with the expectation that bygones will be set aside, despite enduring points of disagreement.
'I think there'll be a new politeness in the relationship,' said Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'But I don't think the substance is going to change very much.'"
It is a progression, at least in tone, from when Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state and formerly the president's national security adviser, voiced the wish to punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia for their resistance to the Iraq war. In those days, France was seen as the most annoying member of what wags called the "axis of weasels," and the hard feelings and bitter words were mutual.
What's changed? Most notably, the invasion of Iraq that France so vociferously opposed fades in time and the Iraqi elections shifted the ground upon which Washington and Paris staked their leading disagreement.
"American action in Iraq was imprudent, but it must not be allowed to end badly," said Jean-Claude Casanova, specialist in bilateral history, tracing a basis for France to cooperate with Washington now.
In one of a series of European media interviews Friday, Bush said, "I personally don't feel bitter" over France's anti-war stance. He added, "Now is the time for us to set aside that difference and to move forward in areas where we can work together."
Rice's visit to France this month proved disarming to critics, in no small part because she ventured into what her contingent offhandedly called the "belly of the beast" - not just Paris, but an academic setting known as an intellectual center of anti-American ferment.
Reviews are still coming in. "Strong, simple, and totally in the tradition of the American ideology," Ernest-Antoine Selliere, head of France's powerful employers' union Medef, said of the speech. Rice's "will to turn the page is totally evident."