PARIS (Reuters) – France, which led opposition to the Iraq war, has instructed its diplomats to monitor U.S. media for signs of an orchestrated campaign of misinformation to discredit it, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Paris has angrily denied articles alleging collusion with the fallen regime of Saddam Hussein, including a recent report in the Washington Times that it issued passports to fleeing Iraqi officials wanted by the United States.

“As part of the campaign of explanation we are undertaking in the United States, we have decided to count the untrue accusations which have appeared in the U.S. press and which have deeply shocked the French,” spokeswoman Marie Masdupuy said.

She told a regular briefing that France had denied all such accusations “with the utmost force.”

In Washington, a spokeswoman for the French Embassy said French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte had written a letter to the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration complaining about alleged false news stories discrediting his country.

“The letter will be handed over sometime today,” the spokeswoman said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied there was any organized media campaign to discredit France.

“There is no basis in fact to it,” McClellan said. “France is an ally, they are still friends, and despite our past differences, were looking for the future.”

France is trying to patch up transatlantic relations battered by its threat to use its U.N. Security Council veto against any U.S. resolution calling for war – a stance that finally forced Washington to forgo U.N. backing.

U.S. officials have said France can expect punishment for its stance, for example by exclusion from decision-making in international bodies like NATO.

Asked if there was any change in the military relationship with France, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was logical for the Untied States to cooperate more closely with countries that it had a god relationship with.

“What we’ve been trying to do in our security cooperation engagement relationships … is to work closely with those countries that want to work closely with us,” he told a Pentagon briefing.

France has denied recent U.S. articles reporting that it possessed prohibited strains of the smallpox virus and that French companies sold Iraq spare aviation parts. Some of the articles cite U.S. intelligence sources.

More wrangling between Paris and Washington is likely over a U.S.-drafted resolution to end 12 years of sanctions against Iraq. France and others argue the text does not give the United Nations a strong enough role in reconstructing Iraq and wants tighter guarantees on how oil revenues will be used.

Masdupuy did not comment on a U.S. call for a vote on an amended text some time next week, merely reiterating France’s wish for a stronger U.N. role and a detailed time frame for the transition to an Iraqi leadership.

France to Monitor U.S. Media for Untruths
By Associated Press

Thursday May 15, 2003