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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac Proving 'Difficult' American Ally

combined reports

WASHINGTON -- The French are not only some of America's oldest allies, they often have been among the most difficult. But any who thought they might become more pliable just because President Jacques Chirac likes Americans and once jerked sodas at a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Boston may now have reason to lose hope.

"It shows that private sympathies and public policy are not the same thing," noted Stanley Hoffman, former chairman of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and an acknowledged expert on U.S.-French relations.

Chirac once again swept aside U.S. policy considerations in the Middle East during his current, controversial trip to the region. In an address Thursday to the Jordanian parliament in Amman, he repeated his call for immediate easing of the UN-imposed trade embargo against Iraq to let the Iraqis sell at least some oil to buy food and medical supplies.

The United States supports that idea in principle but argues that such a trade-off now would come too soon after Iraqi military involvement in fighting last month between rival Kurdish groups.

"The Iraqi people cannot be held responsible for decisions to which it was not party, nor can it be held hostage for stakes that are alien to it," Chirac declared.

A day earlier, the combative French president became the first head of state ever to address the fledgling Palestinian legislature in the West Bank town of Ramallah, telling members he backed Arab demands for a separate Palestinian state and the return of the Golan Heights from Israel to Syria as part of a formula to bring peace to the region. Chirac has also demanded a direct French or European role in the U.S.-mediated Mideast peace process.

Israel rejects the idea of an independent Palestinian state, while the United States has shown no interest in broadening the highly sensitive Arab-Israeli negotiations aimed at carrying out the Oslo peace accords. "Our decision to retain the [format] we have for the talks isn't because we want to exclude anyone, but because what we've got seems to be working," said one White House official.

Coming on the heels of a sharp verbal exchange between senior U.S. and French officials about the motivations of Secretary of State Warren Christopher's recent trip to Africa -- a region many in France view as a French preserve -- relations between the two countries seemed yet again headed for stormy waters. The reason for the frequent strains tend to be complex, stemming in part from a kind of cultural competition, in which France has, for example: led efforts to reduce the impact of American films in Europe; subsidized its own film industry; and sought to build barriers to protect the French language from erosion by "Americanisms."

?In Jerusalem, all-night talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke up Friday morning with no agreement on an Israeli troop withdrawal in Hebron, but participants said the negotiations would continue.

"We have some difficulties and some major issues which were not solved, and there is no other way except to continue the talks," said Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo.

American mediator Dennis Ross said "we're still working hard."

The Israeli assessment was somewhat more upbeat.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who has been optimistic since negotiations started, said that it became apparent in the latest round that Palestinian negotiators now had a mandate from Yasser Arafat to conclude an agreement quickly.

"Now that there is willingness on both sides we are very close to a signed agreement," Levy told army radio.