Source AP ©

Kouchner: France 'allied, not aligned' with US

France doesn’t take orders from Washington, but no longer has a policy of "permanent anti-Americanism” as under Jacques Chirac, the French foreign minister said Wednesday.

Bernard Kouchner, who was leaving Wednesday on a three-day trip to Washington, said France has moved on from the 12-year term of President Jacques Chirac, who was a top critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

France is "allied, yes. Aligned, no. We don't take our orders from Washington even if we have a policy other than one founded on permanent anti-Americanism," he said on France-Inter radio.

Such perceived anti-Americanism was "a tradition that we are working to overcome," Kouchner added in an apparent reference to the Chirac era.

Under Sarkozy, who has embraced the moniker "Sarko the American" affixed by critics, Kouchner last month became the first French foreign minister to travel to Iraq since the war began.

More recently, France has taken a tougher line against Iran over its nuclear program - one closer to the U.S. stance and a sign that ties between Paris and Washington are improving.

But Kouchner cautioned that disagreements remained - and that France would express them openly when necessary.

"If you knew the discussions that I have with Madame Condoleezza Rice. ... We are really not always in agreement - on the contrary," he said, referring to the U.S. secretary of state. He said that France now has "more influence" on issues like the Middle East, Kosovo or Lebanon.

Kouchner was expected to speak with Rice on subjects including Iraq, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Darfur, Kosovo, and an upcoming U.S.-sponsored conference on the Middle East, the Foreign Ministry has said.

Kouchner, on his first official U.S. visit since his appointment in May, was also expected to meet with congressional leaders and speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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