TWO men under extreme pressure met for dinner earlier this week.
Tony Blair of Britain and Dominique de Villepin of France are prime ministers whose hold on their office is insecure, although for rather different reasons. M de Villepin is inextricably enmeshed in the Clearstream affair, which has its origins in the sale of French frigates to Taiwan in 1991 and a list of individuals who allegedly benefitted inappropriately from the sale. In 2004, apparently on the orders of President Chirac, M de Villepin started an inquiry into the participation of Nicolas Sarkozy who is likely to be the centre-right's opponent to Jacques Chirac's candidacy for the presidential election next year. As an intriguing addition to all this an allegation has arisen that, as Mayor of Paris in 1992, M Chirac placed 300 million francs in a Japanese bank.
All those involved say the allegations are nonsense. Mr Blair's difficulties are more straightforwardedly political although the peerages-fordonations affair rumbles on and may stop one day at the door of Number 10 Downing Street. IT would be fascinating to know what the two prime ministers will have to say to each other about the invasion of Iraq and its consequences.
As French Foreign Minister at the time, Dominique de Villepin was the principal opponent on the UN Security Council of the Anglo/American efforts to get an resolution authorising military action against Saddam Hussein. On one occasion his eloquence won applause from most of those present in the Security Council's chamber. He was right about Iraq but it is unlikely that Mr Blair will have admited as much over their dinner.