Ambassador to the US François Bujon de l'Estang
Interview with French Radio BFM
Washington, D.C.
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 crisis.

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.