Frontpage Interview has the pleasure to have Kenneth Timmerman, author of the new book The French Betrayal of America, as its guest today.
A senior writer at Insight Magazine, Mr. Timmerman has spent twenty years reporting on Europe and the Middle East. He is also the author of Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America . Visit his website at www.KenTimmerman.com.
FP: Mr. Timmerman welcome back to Frontpage Interview, it is a pleasure to have you with us again.
Timmerman: Thanks, Jamie. Frontpage is one of the rare bright spots in today's media, which is dominated by the centers of spin.
FP: President Bush's critics say Iraq was a war for oil. You seem to agree, but in your new book, you claim that war was being waged by French president Chirac. Could you explain this to our readers?
Timmerman: If you read the French press, or the glowing accounts of Chirac's opposition to the U.S. effort to build an international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein that appeared here in America, you might actually believe that the French were standing on principle.
I reveal that Chirac was defending something quite different when he sent his erstwhile foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, around the world to buy votes against America at the United nations. Chirac was determined to maintain Saddam Hussein in power so that two extraordinarily lucrative oil contracts, negotiated by the French, could go into effect. Very little has been written about this until now.
The deals were negotiated separately by CFP Total and by Elf Aquitaine during the mid to late 1990s. At the time, both companies were state-controlled. They have since been privatized and combined into the world’s second largest oil giant, TotalFinalElf.
Through my sources, I obtained a copy of one of these contracts. It spans 154 pages, and grants the French exclusive right to exploit one of Iraq’s largest oil fields at Nahr al-Umar for a period of twenty years. Under the deal, the French were given 75% of the revenue from every barril of oil they extracted – 75%! That is absolutely stunning. Not even during the pre-OPEC days were foreign oil operators granted such extravagant terms.
I discussed the contract with an independent oil analyst, Gerald Hillman, who estimated that during the first seven years alone, it would earn the French around $50 billion. Elf-Aquitaine negotiated a virtually identical deal with Saddam to expand the gigantic Majnoon oil field as well. Put together, those two deals were worth $100 billion to the French. That’s 100 billion good reasons for Mr. Chirac to keep Saddam in power.
FP: The contracts were dependent on Saddam?
Timmerman: That’s correct, although I am sure the French are trying to put pressure on the Iraqi Governing Council to honor these scandalously corrupt deals.
Because of the United Nations sanctions, the French were allowed to do some initial scoping out work on the oil fields, but they couldn’t begin actual production until the sanctions were lifted. So this was a clear quid pro quo. As Hillman told me, what the French were saying in this contract was very simple: “We will help you get the sanctions lifted, and when we do that, you give us this.” And that is precisely what the French were trying to do at the UN. I’ve called these $100 billion deals from Saddam to Chirac the largest bribe ever paid in history. It was Chirac’s War for Oil.
FP: Were there personal payoffs to President Chirac? Your book portrays him as shockingly corrupt, but what’s the proof?
Timmerman: Most American newspapers hardly ever write about France, so Americans have no idea that Mr. Chirac was on the verge of being indicted by an investigative magistrate in 1999 on corruption charges. Never before in French history had a sitting president been under such assault from the legal system, which traditionally has been under the boot of the ruling party.
That particular case involved Mr. Chirac’s alleged misuse of public funds during his 18 years as Mayor of Paris, where he established an extensive system of political patronage grafted to a national political party. Among the schemes that came to light, which I detail in my book, were kickbacks Chirac’s party demanded from contractors on virtually every public works contract – right down to maintenance contracts in the public schools!
Chirac’s party wasn’t alone in this; indeed, virtually everyone from the Communists to the Far Right benefited from similar schemes. But clearly, Mr. Chirac was deeply involved on a very personal level in organizing the clandestine financing of his political party.
There’s one great scene I describe in my book, which came to light during these court cases, where a visitor allegedly brings Chirac and his chief of staff a suitcase full of cash. Chirac is in his office in the palatial Paris town hall, and opens a door to reveal a safe built into the wall. It just so happens that the safe is located in the private toilet in his office. So Chirac flushes the toilet to cover the noise as he dials the combination to the safe, just in case some political opponent has planted a listening device inside his office.
There’s another scene I describe in the scene, where a well-known arms dealer arrives in Geneva from Baghdad, carrying the torn half of a $1 bill. Under instructions from Saddam Hussein, he meets with an Iraqi government employee, then goes down to the UBS bank, where they withdraw several million dollars in cash. Later, at a pre-arranged meeting place, an emissary for a prominent French politician arrives. “You’d never ask their name, they’d never ask you your name,” the arms dealer told me. “You have half of the dollar, and he has half of the dollar. You match the serial numbers and make the exchange. That was how it worked.”
There have long been rumors that Chirac financed his RPR party with cash from Saddam Hussein, but no one has ever come forward with material evidence to substantiate the claim. If my arms dealer source is accurate – and I believe he is – we now know why. Cash payments are by nature untraceable.
FP: Can the United States ever trust the French again -- after all they did last year to muster an anti-American coalition vs. Saddam?
Timmerman: Mr. Chirac has shown through his behavior that France is no longer the ally that it once was. I am heartened by the change of foreign minister. Dominique de Villepin, whose theatrical silliness and weird obsession with Napolean I profile in the book, has gone on to greener pastures; as Interior Minister, he now runs the French counter-espionage service and their secret police. The new foreign minister, Michel Barnier, is much more low key, and will focus on Europe more than America.
He has stated that he will try to repair relations with the United States. But from all the U.S. diplomats and senior Bush administration people I’ve spoken with recently about this, I think the key phrase is “Trust, but verify.” The French have a lot of work to do to demonstrate that they won’t stab us in the back as they did last year at the United Nations.
This said, we don’t really need the French for much, unless the President decides he must return to the United Nations. Going to war without France is like going deer-hunting without an accordeon.
FP: What is it about the French do you think that makes them so predisposed to admiring anti-American dictators and mass-murderers like Saddam Hussein?
Timmerman: I think the problem, to paraphrase Condi Rice’s recent testimony, is structural. The French Socialist economy has spawned vast state-owned enterprises that are unable to compete in a free, fair market. To maintain the socialist welfare state, with its ten to twelve percent unemployment rates, the French desperately need to cut backdoor deals with dictators and authoritarian states. Hence, their current fondness for the mullahs in Tehran, and the Chinese communists.
Iraq was a special case. I was invited in the late 1980s to visit the Iraqi Army staff college, and was surprised when I saw a plaque donated to the college by visiting French general Pierre-Marie Gallois, the “father” of the French strategic nuclear force. Many in the French Gaullist elite saw in Saddam Hussein an Iraqi De Gaulle, a fellow spirit: someone willing to stand up to superpowers, and take his country on a “third way.” That third way, of course, led directly through Paris, in opposition to Washington.
One of our biggest problems as we go forward with France will be the safeguard of our nuclear weapons secrets. I tell the story in my book of our extensive nuclear weapons cooperation with France, and end with a question: should U.S. taxpayers continue to subsidize the French nuclear weapons establishment?
My answer is a clear, resounding: No.
FP: Mr. Timmerman, it was, once a again, a pleasure to speak with you.
Timmerman: And a pleasure to speak with you as well Jamie.
I welcome all of our readers to get in touch with me if they have a good idea/contact for a guest for Frontpage Interview. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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