US-French ties a success, Washington says after spat

The United States hailed ties with its oldest ally France as a success on Thursday, brushing off a spat in which US tire-maker Titan mock French workers as work-shy.

This week, in a letter to France's indutry minister Arnaud Montebourg, Titan chief executive Maurice Taylor claimed the lazy "so-called workers" at a loss-making tire plant in northern France only work three hours a day.

He mockingly rejected the idea his firm might invest in the plant and won a sarcastic reponse from the minister, who boasted that France's Michelin tire giant is 20 times bigger and 35 times more profitable than Titan.

The row caused a sensation in Paris, but in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted the testy exchange was a "private matter" and not a concern between the United States and its "oldest ally" France.

"We have deep and broad relations, including many successful American businesses operating in France, many successful French businesses operating in the United States," she added.

"As allies, we continually strive to keep our markets open to each other and to have both of our populations benefit from strong, robust trade both ways."

Though historic allies, the French and the Americans have a long history of both mutual admiration and distaste.

In one of the strangest recent chapters, the US Congress officially renamed French fries "freedom fries" in congressional cafeterias in 2003 in response to France's opposition to the proposed US-led invasion of Iraq.

The run-up to the war and its aftermath also saw a prolonged episode of France-bashing in the United States, but ties have since warmed markedly.

Asked whether she considered French workers to be "lazy," Nuland responded: "I have a personal soft spot for France. I think I'll leave it there."