A senior Pentagon adviser today accused France of striking a deal with Saddam Hussein to oppose military action in return for a lucrative oil contract. Richard Perle, a former US Assistant Defence Secretary, said the French anti-war stance was driven by economic interests. French oil giant TotalFinaElf has exclusive exploration contracts worth €60bn - €75bn to develop the massive Majnoon and Bin Umar oilfields in southern Iraq, he said.
"What's distinctive about the Total contract is that it's not favourable to Iraq, it's favourable to Total," Mr Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board, said during an address in New York. "One can suspect that there's some arbitrage there, that in between the real value of that contract and the cash value of that contract there's a certain amount of political support.
"It's entirely possible that Saddam negotiated that deal because that along with the revenues, he could get something else."
He said oil experts who had analysed the deal described it as "extraordinarily lopsided" in favour of the French company.
"This is not your normal oil exploration contract."
Total is currently barred from working on the oil fields because of the economic sanctions against Iraq. f Saddam is overthrown the new regime is likely to nullify existing contracts and invite oil companies from around the globe to compete for new deals.
"The French interest in the propagation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious."
Mr Perle also said the dispute over whether to invade Iraq had exposed France's determination to shape the European Union as a "counterweight" to the US. French president Jacques Chirac saw the role of the EU to neutralise America rather than to work with it, he said.
"A relationship that can be described in terms of a counterweight is not a relationship of alliance." Mr Perle said the "extremity" of the German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the "petulance" of Mr Chirac in their stance on Iraq could alter the US-European partnership forever.
"I think that's going to cause a lot of people on both sides of the Atlantic to rethink the post-war alliance.
"It may well be the case that we are witnessing history in the making in this transatlantic relationship."