Ambassador to the US François Bujon de l'Estang
Interview with French Radio BFM
September 27, 2001
After the attacks, the IPSOS Institute conducted a representative survey
of French people and a representative survey of Americans for Le Point and BFM.
It found that 70% of the French trust President Bush in the crisis and that
77% of Americans consider France an ally in the context of a future armed response.
With us is François Bujon de l'Estang, Ambassador of France to the United
States. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us. You are in your office
at the Embassy in Washington. Does the poll surprise you?
Listen, quite honestly no. The Americans trust France to be at their side in
an extraordinarily serious, very traumatic crisis for the United States. I'm
not surprised because basically history has shown that in tough times we've
always stood together. And Americans know this. So 77%, that's actually a great
percentage, but I think it's justified by history and by the feelings the French
are expressing at this time.
On the other hand, when Americans are asked who their best allies are, the
vast majority--53%--put Britain first.--Only 5% say France. That's less encouraging.
Do you have an explanation for this?
The sense of kinship with the British is as old as the United States itself.
So no, that doesn't surprise me either. It's true that the British and Americans
are rather like cousins in a way, we can call it that if you like. And there's
a high degree of understanding, intellectually, culturally, which is obviously
the result of a common language, a common history to a large extent and a common
heritage, in spite of American independence. And another thing, even in the
most recent events, the Americans are used to having the British at their sides.
Take for example the air strikes they've been carrying out over Iraq for a number
of years. British pilots have been taking part in them every day or every week.
So Americans tend to consider the British are with them as a matter of course.
It's true they have a feeling for Britain that they don't have for any other
of their allies. That doesn't mean that they don't trust their other allies.
It's that there is a really special relationship with Britain which was quite
evident the other day when President Bush addressed the United States Congress
and Tony Blair, who was visiting and had dined with President Bush that evening,
was his personal guest in Congress.
I imagine that the language can only help?
- Of course.
Mr. Ambassador, you recently made a speech at the Alliance Française
in New York that attracted a lot of attention. You explained that relations
between France and the United States rested on a fundamental paradox: a continual
seesawing from admiration to more or less rejection. Do you think that the tragedy
on September 11 is going to change this given?
There are some very constant patterns in the Franco-American relationship which
run very deep and result from history, from the fact that we French and Americans
are a bit like an old couple who've been together a long time and are loyal
but who also have their little spats. I often compare the Franco-American relationship
to that of an old couple. There are underlying affinities that withstand dramatic
incidents and crises, you see. When there is a crisis, relations between France
and the United States naturally firm up. I said a moment ago that Americans
are basically used to having France at their sides in tough times, and that
again can be attributed to history. We fought together in two world wars, and
in many more recent conflicts as well, we fought alongside the Americans in
the Korean War for example, and we were with the Americans in the Gulf War.
We were the first, don't forget, to throw our complete support to the United
States in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. General de Gaulle--he was the first
great ally of the United States--said publicly that France stood shoulder to
shoulder with the United States. So it's a reflex in times of crisis to show
that our alliance is extremely deep-rooted, extremely solid and, at bottom,
extremely reliable. Of course when the crisis passes, we revert to what I might
call everyday life. And in everyday life, we have a rather special relationship
with the Americans because it's very close, very trustful, and at the same time
often hypersensitive. I sometimes tell Americans that ours is a "polarized
relationship"--it's going a bit far but it's a bit like that. Americans,
as you probably know, speak of a "love-hate relationship." I don't
like the expression very much because of the word "hate" and I thinks
it goes too far. But it's true that we have this knack, let's call it, of irritating
each other in normal times. Fortunately, this reflex disappears in times of
Just a word, if you don't mind, about the French living in the United States,
especially on the East Coast. Are they very American, pro-American at this time?
They're very pro-American, of course. Some of them are really American insofar
as they've lived in the States for a long time, their families are here and
they've made their life here. Others are simply "expats" who have
come for a few years. But let me tell you, these differences, they're a bit
sociological, have totally vanished at this time. All the French on the East
Coast, and I saw them in Washington and New York when I accompanied President
Chirac last week and when I went back two days ago, feel a profound sense of
solidarity with the United States. They share completely in the very strong
emotion, I would almost say the trauma, felt by the American people after the
terrorists attacks which targeted American territory for the first time and
struck on such a massive scale.