France’s Ambassador to the US, Jean-David Levitte

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France’s Ambassador to the US, Jean-David Levitte
Monday, December 8, 2003:  Fifty-five-year old Jean-David Levitte is such a quintessential professional that he gives new meaning to the word “diplomacy.”  Just off the plane from Washington, he addressed an audience of Paris’s business community and journalists at a meeting of The French-American Chamber of Commerce held at the Senat. His presentation was excellent and he didn’t miss a beat when it came to a Q&A session featuring a series of hardball questions.  His career, which began in 1983, has seen him posted in many countries, including French Ambassador to the UN, where he watched the devastation of the Twin Towers ON 9/11 from his office window. The Ambassador says that as a resident New Yorker (albeit temporary) his and France’s hearts went out to the US. I suspect it wasn’t a coincidence that President Chirac was the first Chief of State to join President Bush in the rubble.  After the U.N, he became Ambassador to the United States. He presented his credentials to President Bush on December 4, 2002. In his talk, Levitte emphasized the long-standing mutual relationship between France and the U.S going on 227 years and expressed France’s gratitude to the U.S. for its ongoing support.  Unlike the U.S., French ambassadorial appointments are awarded to men and women who have chosen to serve in the diplomatic arena.  The Ambassador feels his role is to explain French views on the U.S. side of the Atlantic and “keep the dialogue going.”   And that’s what he’s had to do since the US sent troops into Iraq — and Americans started France bashing.  Gallop polls report that France’s image in the US has gone from a low of 29% DURING THE WAR to a current acceptance level of 86%.  Bonjour Paris had a few questions for Ambassador Levitte.    BP: What do you see as the greatest obstacles to jump-starting American tourism to France?   Levitte: The weak dollar, the fear of terrorism and Americans wanting to stay closer to home. Travel to France was down somewhere between 20-30% by Americans in 2002, and in 2003 and we’re hoping to reverse that trend. “Contrary to press reports, French champagne and Bordeaux sales were up by more than 30% in the U.S. Beaujolais sales were down in both France and the U.S., but that is cyclical– all products have their turn.”  BP: What about anti-Semitism in France?  Levitte: There have been incidents and the French government is combating them. Much of the trouble has been perpetrated by second-generation French Muslim youths who are unemployed. If you drive through the suburbs of Paris and other Muslim enclaves, you’ll see television satellites beaming Al Jeezera that has radicalized many young French men.BP: Are you Jewish?  Levitte: Yes. I never deny I’m Jewish, and I make a point of meeting with Jewish groups in the U.S. to assure them they are welcome in France.  When I was speaking at a country club in Los Angeles, I was surprised to discover that Hillcrest Country Club is a Jewish Club. In France, there’s not that type of segregation.  BP: What about the recent Vanity Fair Piece about anti-Semitism in France?  Levitte: No Jew was killed at the Place de la Concorde. I sent a letter to the editor that has yet to be printed.   His portable phone rang at that moment and Ambassador Levitte asked to be excused as he had an important date to see his daughter and 10-month-old grandson.  On Wednesday, he spoke at the American Embassy with U.S. Ambassador Howard Leech, whom he credits with doing an excellent job representing the U.S. That afternoon, he was heading back to the States.  Ironically, that was the day that the Bush administration said it would not allow French companies to bid on contracts that involve rebuilding Iraq. Ambassador Levitte’s work continues.
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