PARIS: “Won’t George W. Bush be surprised,” notes a close friend of Paul Bremer, the newly-appointed US civilian administrator for Iraq, “when he learns that the career foreign diplomat is not only strongly pro-French and Francophone, he’s also a longtime resident of France, notably of the port city of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.”

According to the longtime French friend and neighbour, Didier Chancerel, Bremer, who is a practising Catholic, decided many years ago to buy a residence at the celebrated vacation village, where, he notes, “he’s so impassioned by French culture that Bremer has learnt to sing all of the traditional songs of the Basque region.” He’s also become, notes Chancerel, “one of our most knowledgeable local historians, with an unquenching desire to learn everything he can about our mores and customs.”

Bremer, says Chancerel, calls him regularly to keep an eye on his house, and says he hopes to return to Saint-Jean-de-Luz as soon as his new job permits him to spend a few days in France, especially as his French port-of-call is much closer to Baghdad, where he will be based, than to Washington.

Bremer’s appointment, says a French diplomatic source, may very well turn out to be France’s golden opportunity to at last get its foot in the door and be able to have its just role to play not only in reconstruction, but also the operation of the country’s oil fields and eventually the rearmament of Iraq, where such companies as Dassault, EADS and Thales say they’d like eventually to set up shop.—By Paul Michaud

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