U.S-France: tension far from over

Dec 23 2003

FRANCE: Iraqi Hangover Clouds Ties with U.S.
By Julio Godoy

PARIS, Dec 23 (IPS) The diplomatic tension that arose between France and
the United States over the invasion of Iraq was put aside formally, but it is far
from over.

Differences have arisen between the two countries over several issues
recently. And somewhere in these differences, many analysts smell Iraq.

The United States blocked selection of a French installation last week for a
major new nuclear experiment. The French in turn opened dormant
investigations into dealings of the U.S. firm Halliburton that was headed until
recently by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The French nuclear institute Cadarache was one of two sites under
consideration for the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER). This
is an experiment for developing technology for nuclear fusion at extremely high
temperatures to release high energy levels, the so-called energy of stars. The
alternative site is Rokkasho in Japan.

The ITER project is being financed jointly by the European Union (EU),
Russia, Canada, China, South Korea, Japan and the United States. The project
is expected to cost 10 billion dollars.

The United States opted out of the project in 1999 but returned February this
year as an influential player. Last week it secured the support of South Korea in
blocking the selection of Cadarache.

Many scientists see Cadarache as the best site for the project. The institute
which employs 4,300 scientists is at the cutting edge of nuclear technology and
analysis of energy.

“I know for certain that the U.S. government wants to punish France for its
diplomatic position on the Iraq crisis,” French deputy Pierre Lellouche who is
close to President Jacques Chirac said last week. Lellouche had counselled
Chirac earlier not to oppose the United States over Iraq.

“George Bush Punishes France” ran a headline in the weekly Le Journal du
Dimanche. “During the ITER negotiations, the U.S. government led the
opposition to Cadarache,” its chief editor Jean-Claude Maurice wrote. “In the
eyes of Washington, it is not good to be French right now.”

The French are hitting back in their own way. Prosecutors have reopened an
inquiry into Halliburton over its oil interests in Nigeria.

The inquiry which has been sleeping in the drawers for two years has
suddenly gained momentum over the last few weeks. Nigerian officials and
former executives from Technip, a French company allied with Halliburton’s
subsidiary Kellog Brown & Root in gas fields in Bonny Island in Nigeria have
been called in for questioning.

Prosecutor Renaud Van Ruymbeke, who has been investigating corruption in
French oil affairs in Africa over several years, has established that 180 million
dollars were paid between 1994 and 2001 to Jeffrey Tesler, a London-based
lawyer associated with Halliburton and Cheney for more than 20 years.

In 1993, the Nigerian government granted exploitation rights on Bonny Island
in the Niger river delta to a consortium formed by Kellog Brown & Root and the
European oil giants Shell, TotalFina, and Agip.

The 180 million dollars were described officially as a fee for commercial
counselling paid to Tri Star, a shell company registered in Gibraltar. French
prosecutors say Tri Star was a front for Tesler. They say the commercial
counselling did not take place, and that enrolment of the London lawyer was
imposed by Halliburton upon its associates.

Tesler first gave a bank account in Geneva to receive the money, French
prosecutors say. But he is reported to have changed this to another bank in
Monaco after Swiss authorities began an inquiry into bank accounts of former
Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

Abacha, who died in 1998, was in charge when the dealings began.

Former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete told prosecutors that he could not
understand the role played by Tesler. “Shell and KBR had direct links with our
government, and didn’t need any commercial counselling, ” Etete told the
French prosecutor earlier this month.

Van Ruymbeke is considering proceedings against Cheney based on such
statements. The prosecution is reported to be considering a charge of “misuse
of public property”, which is less than a charge of corruption. (END/IPS
“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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