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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Releases > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks > 2003 > June

Background Briefing on U.S.-French Meeting

Senior Administration Official
Evian, France
June 2, 2003

Released by the White House, Office of the Press Secretary

12:33 P.M. (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They had a 25-minute meeting that was very forward looking, with the Middle East being the most talked about matter. They spent considerable time talking about Syria and Lebanon and potential efforts there to make progress towards peace.

President Chirac was asked by President Bush to give his sense of what is happening in Syria and Lebanon and the prospects for bringing them into the peace process. He gave a lengthy discussion of it. And the President said to him that we see this -- we agree 100 percent with these objectives.

Q: Which President said it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is President Bush saying it to President Chirac, that we agree 100 percent with these objectives, that we each have influences in the region of Syria and Lebanon and we can work together to help develop peace there as well.

There was a lengthy discussion about the situation in Lebanon, in Syria, Syria's influence in Lebanon. That's really where the meeting focused at great length about. They also talked about the situation briefly in Iraq, in Iran -- the need to make certain that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. And that was -- that's the heart of the meeting, it was a cordial meeting.

Q: Were there any discordant tones to it, over Iraq in particular?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. On Iraq, talked about -- the President said -- this is a quote from the President -- "The Iraq situation was difficult, but it's time to move on." The President talked about his speech in Poland, said, "I'm serious about what I said in Poland."

Q: A quote?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: "I'm serious about what I said in Poland. A united Europe will help to solve a lot of problems," the President said.

But, no, that's why I said it was cordial. I think what you expect is when two leaders who have had very overt differences about the war in Iraq get together, they are forward looking. The purpose of the meeting is to make progress on these issues. And certainly when it comes to the situation involving Syria and Lebanon, France has considerable history in Lebanon, and the President wanted to listen to President Chirac's advice on that issue.

Q: Other than a readout on the lay of the land there, did Chirac offer anything substantive in terms of trying to work with the Lebanese, trying to move things forward on his front, from his vantage point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did. He had some suggestions about relations with Syria. Of course he knows [Syrian leader] Bashir Assad, he knew Bashir's father very well. I don't think it's my place to characterize everything he said. He had some interesting ideas about how to make certain that Syria does the right things. And this is where the President said we agree 100 percent with the objectives. The President said "we agree completely with your assessment about Syria and Lebanon."

Q: Would you characterize -- again without going into the details you can't go into it -- would you characterize his attitude as being helpful, wishing to be helpful, wishing to help work this in tandem?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, absolutely.

Q: Who was in the room?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, yes, the meeting took place outdoors, at the same table you saw. The President's side was Ambassador Leach, Dr. Rice [National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice], Chief of Staff [Andrew] Card, myself, [National Security Council official] Dan Fried, [White House Communications Director] Dan Bartlett. On the French side, I don't know all the names, so I --

Q: On the Middle East, did the President give Chirac any indication of what he expects to happen there, particularly with Sharon's announcement that he might give up some of these illegal outposts?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did not get into that level of specificity, other than the President saying that he thinks we'll be able to make progress, that's why he's going -- because most of the conversation was spent on Lebanon and Syria.

President Chirac, as he did in public, wished President Bush success tonight in Sharm el-Sheikh; talked about the importance of the mission. He said he totally supports the road map.

Q: Chirac said that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Is the President aware of those reports, though, that Sharon has agreed? Was he behind that all, that Sharon has agreed, I guess, to dismantle these illegal settlements?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He continued to press all parties to honor their responsibilities. And dealing with the settlements is one of the responsibilities that we have been pressing on Israel.

Q: Did the President ask for Chirac's help in any way, with respect to Syria? Did he ask for him to convey on the Syrian leader to pull back out of Lebanon, to not use this opportunity to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Bush viewed what President Chirac said about Syria and Lebanon as, "A very interesting opportunity for France and the United States to work together." That's another quote from the President on that. And so I think we'll continue to work with them on various ideas on how to make progress on this front and the Middle East.

Q: One of the purposes of tomorrow's meeting it was suggested to ask these Arab countries to, you know, further encourage Abu Mazen and the Palestinians to reject terror. Why -- I mean, do you see a similar opportunity, maybe not now, but in the near future Syria needs to do the same with Hezbollah?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. The two discussed the importance of Syria taking concrete actions to crack down on terrorists, to close terrorist offices. The two, President Bush and President Chirac, see eye to eye on that matter.

Q: Did Arafat come up at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

Q: Neither side mentioned him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct, neither side mentioned him.

Color? I wrote it down because someone asked --

Q: When you --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wait a minute; I'm in the middle of exciting color. I wrote it down. (Laughter.)

Q: I trained him well.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was either four or six bottles of Evian --

Q: The President --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what I'm getting to.

Q: They drank Evian?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the same round table that you saw were -- where did I write it down? It was either four or six bottles of Evian water with four glasses on the table. The bottles remained unopened, but they sat there as --

Q: Is that a snub against French water?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it showed that the conversation was so enthralling that no diversions were necessary.

Q: Was Chirac smoking? (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No smoking.

Q: Is the U.S.-French divide over now? Does this declare an end to that episode?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think as the President -- the President said to President Chirac at the beginning, I think I gave you that quote, the Iraq situation was difficult, but it's time to move on, and that a united Europe will help to solve a lot of problems.

Clearly, there still are some differences that the United States has with France. The people of the United States continue to have strong feelings about some of the things that took place. Nevertheless, France and the United States have been allies and partners many a time before. Despite ups and downs in relations, it's important for France and the United States to continue to find common ground. Today's meeting was about finding common ground.

Q: But in recent days the National Security Advisor said American power doesn't need to be checked. The President said the Poles don't need to be lectured on making choices between the United States and Europe. And it suggests that there's quite a bit of undertow still out there. To what extent can you say that it's time to move on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Chirac did not say in the meeting anything about a multi-polar world. And the President did say that he meant what he said in the speech about Poland and a united Europe can help us solve a lot of problems. A united Europe, not a Europe that's divided.

Q: Can you describe at all their body language during the part that we saw? Bush was kind of leaning into Chirac, he seemed very comfortable with him.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The two are comfortable. And I think what you have to realize, in Head of State-to-Head of State relations they are both mature leaders and they understand there were differences; they understand the importance of working together where we have common objectives, and that's what today represented.

Q: Are you going to have anybody brief us on the way to Sharm el-Sheikh?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me see what we've got there. I mean, you really got it from the senior administration official yesterday on the airplane. The President gave it to you today in a response from a very probing question from a senior wire reporter. (Laughter.)

Do you want me to do the translations of what President Chirac in French, while you were there?

Q: Yes, Gregory isn't here to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This can be attributed to David Gregory.

Q: -- saying is, too bad we don't have David Gregory.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: "This is a great man, a wonderful man, a strong man" -- (laughter) -- "handsome, wonderful wife, caring" -- (laughter.)

Q: "Great runner." (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: "He lives in a beautiful state." (Laughter.)

Q: "I'd like to go there some day, but he won't let me." (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Here's what Chirac said in French in response to your questions, and this is not an official government translation. But he said a positive meeting. He said: this has been a positive meeting; we have the same message; I hope that tonight is successful; I regret that the President has to leave early, but it's for a good cause. And he said, we see the same solution without reservation and he cited the solidarity with the United States and he cited the U.N. resolution. That's what President Chirac said in French.

Q: But it is for a good cause?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said: I hope tonight is successful; I regret that he has to leave early, but it's for a good cause.

Q: In the pool brief it sounded like he was saying "rancor" between Bush and -- did you pick that up?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

Q: I heard "tres positive."

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: "Reunion positive," which means positive meeting.

Q: At the end there he seemed to say something about "that was over, it's now 2003" or something. Did you catch any of that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do we have a formal transcript of what was said in French, and does that get officially released by State Department or something along those lines? Maybe what we can do is talk to French officials and see if they have a translation, verbatim in French and then we can work the translations through.

Q: One last question on the meeting just now between the two of them. Was the Middle East sort of a pre-arranged agenda, or is just on their minds and it was what they both wanted to discuss?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it was very much on their minds, of course, with the President heading to the region tonight and President heading to the region tonight and President Chirac having experience with Syria and Lebanon that the President wanted to listen to.

Q: But there was no pre-set agenda for the discussion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not per se. I mean, the two staff-wise -- the briefing papers walk through a lot of different areas, but there was a lot of focus on this because we knew that it was something that's important to President Chirac.

Q: One sort of coda on this portion of the trip. There was a lot of talk by analysts before, saying, this is not really going to be a fence-mending trip, that there's going to be a lot of chilly, frosty atmosphere here. When you look at what happened in St. Petersburg, when you look at what happened here -- today's atmosphere with not only Chirac, but also with [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder, even [Canadian Prime Minister Jean] Chretien -- what would you say has been accomplished? How has this wound up?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Predictions by people that things would be chilly have been proven wrong; that and the beauty of Evian and the warm weather of Evian, people of have come together around common objectives. And, like I said, what's interesting about statecraft is that mature leaders get together to discuss areas where progress can be made of common interest. They don't dwell on that which came before.

The President openly acknowledged it and said it's time to move on. There may be occasional differences among allies and friends, but part of statecraft is moving forward. That is how they discussed it.

Q: Other ways to beat this horse? (Laughter.)

Q: What's the coverage for the meetings in Middle East?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know yet.

Q: Thanks.


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