Sunday, February 16
Ladies' man who swept UN off its feet
Paul Webster in Paris, The Observer, February 16, 2003
If there can be such a thing as a diplomatic pin-up, then it is Dominque de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, whose dashing good looks and eloquence earned him rare applause at Friday's dramatic Security Council meeting.
Until his appointment after the right-wing general election win in June, De Villepin, 49, was a man of the shadows, despite being President Jacques Chirac's chief of staff and his most trusted adviser.
A career diplomat who twice served in Washington, De Villepin was often criticised by his own side for mistakes in presidential planning, including the disastrous 1997 parliamentary dissolution. The error forced Chirac into five painful years of 'cohabitation' with the Left, but he brushed aside demands to sack his aide.
Grooming presidential chiefs of staff to become Foreign Ministers is traditional. De Villepin, whose curious, aristocratic middle name is Galouzeau, was preceded by a string of promoted front-line aides, including De Gaulle's Michel Jobert, Giscard's Jean François-Poncet and Mitterrand's Hubert Védrine. Of these, De Villepin, whose studied courtesy, charm and good looks have given him the reputation of a ladies' man, had the best credentials for the job. Chirac gave him the Ministry because of his pro-European record. Apart from being told to accelerate France's role as the European Union's political motor, Chirac also asked him to reform the unwieldy administration at the Quai d'Orsay - the Foreign Ministry - but he has been distracted by Iraq and Ivory Coast's civil war.
De Villepin's triumph at the UN has obscured criticism from his own side over his handling of the Ivory Coast affair, in which he oversaw a hasty peace deal that has since been rejected. But Chirac, who treats foreign policy as his personal preserve, congratulated him on his UN performance, sealing a close partnership that is set to guide French diplomacy at least until the end of the President's second term in 2007.