Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Outrage, Cynicism from French Greet Leak on U.S. Spying

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Outrage, Cynicism from French Greet Leak on U.S. Spying

Article excerpt

The disclosure of spying allegations against U.S. diplomats backfired Thursday on Premier Edouard Balladur. His foreign minister said he was "scandalized" by the leak, and political rivals claimed he was trying to divert attention from his troubled presidential campaign.

"It's a campaign maneuver," said Philippe Vasseur, a backer of rival conservative candidate Jacques Chirac. "They were trying to create a smoke screen."

Many critics said the disclosure needlessly damaged French-American relations at a time when the two allies already had many economic and diplomatic differences.

Critics also noted that the story had been leaked to a newspaper as Balladur's lead in the presidential race evaporated amid a wiretapping scandal and other woes.

Le Monde, a newspaper, reported Wednesday that five Americans - including four diplomats - had been asked to leave France for allegedly conducting political, military and economic espionage for the Central Intelligence Agency. Among them, French officials say, is the CIA station chief.

France's foreign and interior ministries confirmed the report in a joint statement but said it had not been intended that the information be made public.

U.S. officials called the charges unwarranted and expressed amazement that they were made public. State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said Thursday that it was unlikely that the diplomats would leave before their postings ended.

There was strikingly little anti-American rhetoric in France in the aftermath of the disclosures and no noisy calls for the government to ensure the rapid exit of the alleged spies.

Even the likelihood that the five suspects would remain in France roused minimal indignation in a country that has grown accustomed to reports of spying between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe agreed with Washington that the allegations should have been handled quietly. …

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