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By a crackling fire place in the elegant Brattle Street, Cambridge home of the French Consul General, the Ambassador carefully sipped his cafe noir in the cold morning light.
Pierre Vimont, French Ambassador to the United States, sat down with GlobalPost this week to talk about the global economic crisis, President Barack Obama’s dramatic shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan and what the future holds for U.S.-French relations.
In a week in which French labor unions held strikes across the country to protest the way working people are bearing the burden of the financial crisis, Vimont articulated the French view on what is meant by President Sarkozy’s desire for the “reform” of capitalism.
“By reform we are talking about more accountability. We should allow for an entrepreneur to succeed but if an entrepreneur fails he should not take bonuses or retain salary. President Sarkozy has been very outspoken on this,” said Vimont.
Another aspect of correcting the global economy, Vimont said, will have to include “more coordination internationally, particularly with emerging economies.”
“We need much more participation from Brazil, India, and other emerging economies. We have to find a way for them to have more of a voice,” he said.
“If we don’t show to people a coherence in our principals then the French people will lose faith in the system,” he explained, speaking directly to a global sense of unrest amid the dramatic downturn in the economy.
Vimont is a career diplomat who was appointed U.S. ambassador by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 when the new French president began a distinctly warm tone toward America and President Bush.
So where will U.S.-French relations stand now with the new administration of President Barack Obama?
“We were working very closely with America before in many ways. And with President Obama relations will improve even more,” said Vimont.
He said he welcomed the “excellent choice” of Sen. George Mitchell as U.S. special envoy to the Middle East and believed President Obama's announcement that Guantanamo would be closed within a year was “something the world applauds.”
He was asked about the fraying of relations between the U.S. and France in the run up to the war in Iraq. That unique moment in history when French fries became Freedom fries, French wine sales plummeted and the writers of the Simpsons coined the moniker “Cheese-eating, surrender monkey.”
At that time in 2003 and 2004, Vimont was serving as the chief of staff to then-Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, the silver haired Gaul who, to Americans, embodied French arrogance.
Given just how costly in terms of human lives and dollars the U.S.-led war in Iraq has been for all those involved, it would be so easy for the French to say they told America so.
But you would never hear that from Vimont. Not only because he is a seasoned diplomat, but because he has a distinctly down-to-earth, almost humble and I would even dare to say un-French bearing about him.
“There is a passionate relationship between our two countries. When we disagree it causes great anger. … I think it comes from a closeness. It is something very special, but at the same time we like to be critical, no?” said Vimont with a slight smile.