The French connection

Jean-David Levitte looked out his office window on the Sept. 11 and reacted like an American. And that reaction is one reason he hopes that France and the United States can work towards rebuilding relations.

The French ambassador to the United States, spoke to a small group of students and faculty Friday afternoon in the Lifsey House, addressing French-U.S. relations, as well as the European Union and France’s position on the war on terror.

According to JoAnn McCarthy, Dean of International Affairs, the French Consulate contacted USF to arrange the speech.

“Ambassador Levitte happened to be on a speaking tour of Florida campuses to speak with students,” McCarthy said.

The ambassador’s stop at USF held special significance because USF holds a seat with the Florida-France Institute.

“(It) establishes good relations between Florida and France,” said Christine Probes, the director of the institute. “And helps promote understanding.”

Levitte served as an ambassador to the United Nations before presenting his credentials to President George W. Bush in 2002, according to the ambassador’s press attaché. He served in the United Nations during Sept. 11 and worked towards the creation of a draft on Sept. 12, 2001 allowing the United States to retaliate against Afghanistan. Levitte has acted as the French ambassador since 2002.

Levitte began his lecture at USF by discussing French-American relations. The French like Americans consider America an important ally. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 affected the French as well, he said.

“I saw from my office window in New York City the destruction on 9/11, and I reacted like an American that day,” Levitte said, which is why France has Special Forces troops on the Pakistan border to catch Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders.

“But why is France with (America) in Afghanistan, was France with (America) in the first Gulf War, but not with (America) in Iraq? To us, Iraq was not a threat,” Levitte said.

Levitte further explained France’s position on the war, citing a lack of weapons of mass destruction as another reason France stayed out of Iraq. “Why rush war while the (U.N.) inspections are still going on?” he said. “History will decide who was wrong and who was right.”

France is now focusing on helping the United States rebuild Iraq, and is encouraging all Iraqis to vote at the end of this month because “these elections are necessary,” he said.

Levitte continued, speaking about the European Union, an international organization helping the European nations work together in the interests of peace and prosperity.

“(Europe’s) history is made up of more wars than of peace,” he said, and one of the many objectives of the European Union is to build new relations between France and Germany.

He also spoke on the success of the Euro, claiming that due to the common market in Europe, a common currency was necessary.

Levitte said he was very interested in exchange programs between France and the United States and encouraged students to participate in programs such as USF’s Study Abroad.

According to Susan Ansara, director of the Study Abroad program, France is the top destination for USF students who study abroad.

Beniot Renault, a senior majoring in business administration, arrived from France this past weekend. He says the French enjoy visiting the United States and have a good opinion of Americans.

“Jean-David Levitte gave a good summary of the situation,” he said. “The (French-American) relationship should continue to be good.”

Student Government Vice President Andrew Aubrey, who was representing SG at the speech, was very hopeful about the ambassador’s visit and the future of America’s relationship with France.

“I think (the ambassador’s visit) is wonderful, and despite past relations (with France), they were our allies, and we need them now as allies.”

Ultimately, Levitte said, “(France has) always been with America, and America has always been with us. The French are in love with American people. 2005 is the year of recovery for our friendship.”