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Bienvenue å Louisiane 

It's time to let bygones be bygones. It's time for President George W. Bush to extend our state's invitation to French President Jacques Chirac to take part in closing ceremonies in New Orleans for the historic Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Celebration.

The cordial meeting between the two presidents earlier this month at the G-8 meeting in Evian, France, is a clear signal from Bush that our relationship with our longtime ally is on the mend. Now, Louisiana's elected officials need to follow Bush's lead. Gov. Mike Foster and others must drop their earlier calls to disinvite Chirac from participating in the planned Dec. 20 ceremonies.

The French government's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq strained relations between Paris and Washington. In late March, Foster joined the fracas by climbing aboard a bandwagon of politicians seeking to revoke an earlier invitation by the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT) to Chirac to participate in a re-enactment of the transfer of territory from France to the United States in 1803. Foster said that he preferred that Chirac stayed home. The media, recognizing the governor's long history of off-the-cuff remarks, offered Foster a chance to modify his remarks. He refused, even though he acknowledged the stance could hurt Louisiana's valuable trade ties with France. "Sometimes you've got to take a stand even if it bites you," he said.

U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal concurred. "If President Chirac is unwilling to stand with President Bush and the United States shoulder-to-shoulder in Iraq, then he shouldn't be allowed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush in Louisiana," Jindal said. Meanwhile, Tauzin pulled down the French version of his Web site -- despite his ties to Cajun Louisiana.

State Rep. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, authored House Concurrent Resolution No. 43 rescinding the state's invitation to Chirac. "Mr. Chirac has appeared to be ungrateful for the tremendous help and genuine friendship that the United States has given to France for many years, including both World War I and World War II," Crowe's resolution stated. Fortunately, the resolution has seen no further action in the Legislature.

Of course, politicians do not protest so boldly on world events unless they can be sure of constituent support. And there was. During the war, some French restaurants in New Orleans apparently felt compelled to declare their support by displaying American flags and distributing yellow ribbons -- similar to the defensive patriotism of local Middle Eastern restaurants following Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

On his Web site, Cajun singer Zachary Richard -- whose career extends to Canada and France -- recounts the controversy in Erath over a flag that flies in front of the mayor's office. Protests that the "French" flag be removed died down when the protester was reminded that the flag in question was the emblem of the Bourbon kings that Iberville planted at Mardi Gras point in 1699.

And back in New Orleans ... well, you can forgive us if we don't want to utter anything more about the "Freedom Quarter."

If truth is the first casualty of war, hysteria on the home front often follows close behind. Now, the war is over. Bush and Chirac are not only mending fences, but also collaborating on how to bring about a lasting peace in the Middle East. According to a White House transcript of Bush's remarks following a courtesy call to Chirac at Evian on June 2, the President thanked Chirac for his "warm hospitality." Bush continued: "I know there's a lot of people in both our countries wondering whether or not we could actually sit down and have a comfortable conversation. And the answer is absolutely. We can have disagreements, but that doesn't mean we have to be disagreeable to each other. And so I'm very glad I came and would say absolutely that this has been a very helpful and a positive meeting. ...

"Listen, we must be frank, we went through a difficult period. I understand his position, he made it very clear to me in the very beginning. There was no question where Jacques Chirac stood. And I made it -- I made it clear where I stood. And that's why I can say we've got good relations, because we're able to be very honest with each other."

Back in Louisiana, state CRT Secretary Phillip Jones, who extended Louisiana Purchase celebration invitations to both Bush and Chirac, welcomes the recent warming of Franco-American relations. Chirac, of course, has personal ties to New Orleans. He visited our city in 1953 (during the 150th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase), when he was a post-graduate student working on his thesis about the Port of New Orleans. Last October, our state's first lady, Alice Foster, visited France and hand-delivered a copy of Chirac's thesis to him. "President Chirac hosted a reception in her honor at Governor Foster's request," Jones says.

Diplomatic protocol calls for President Bush to extend the invitation to Chirac. We encourage him to do so -- and we urge local politicians to follow his lead.

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