As a contributing writer for Scoop Daily, this article will be appearing on their website in the coming week. But you can read it first here. The Honorable U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco, Charles H. Rivkin was gracious and answered my questions. This is a longer post than usual, but it is also an EXCEPTIONAL post. Thank you, Ambassador. You can get updates on the Embassy at their website or on their Facebook group.
What is your connection to France and the French language, and what about diplomacy interests you?
My family has deep connections to France. My father participated in General Patton’s French campaign during World War II for which he was decorated by the French government. My parents sent me to study at the Franco-American Institute in Rennes. I later interned at Renault. I also went to Cannes every year while managing a media firm.
I have been exposed to diplomacy from an early age, while my father was Ambassador to Luxembourg and to Senegal. Every year, in his name, my family and I award a prize to an American diplomat for the best example of constructive dissent that advances American diplomacy.
What do you think of the French-US relationship today, and how do you think Presidents Obama and Sarkozy can work together on different issues from economic recovery to NATO efforts in Afghanistan?
The U.S.-French relationship today is outstanding, with cooperation on all levels. France is one of our oldest allies. Exchanges on all levels – cultural, commercial, and political – are extremely important. We do $1.2 billion in trade, investment, and affiliate sales revenues a day between the two countries. Moreover, President Obama regards France as a key ally in almost all the major issues that he is managing today. The fact that he visited France two times in his first five months as President provides the proof. France is either leading or a close partner on the issues of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Middle East Peace Process, climate change, and the financial crisis. The two Presidents speak to each other regularly by telephone, and are both men of action who work well together.
In your role as Ambassador to France, how involved will you be with the different institutions of the European Union? What role do they play in the work of a US Ambassador to a European country?
We have a Mission to the European Union based in Brussels that leads in the relationship between the United States and the European Commission. Nonetheless, we approach Member States on European Union issues that are being considered in national capitals, which is appropriate since the Embassy manages bilateral relations. France does tend to punch above its weight in the European Union.
What city do you enjoy the most in France, and are there any areas you would like to explore in particular?
France is a wonderful country, geographically diverse, boasting a large variety of regional cuisines and wines, and possessing a rich history. It is hard to choose one city above another, although I do have a certain affection for Rennes since I spent part of my youth there.
Many Americans do not speak a foreign language. How do you think this could be changed, and is the US Embassy in Paris involved in any language programs?
One of President Obama’s priorities is to improve the language abilities of public school students so that future leaders of America have a more international vision. The U.S. Embassy, our Consulates, and American Presence Posts play a role in this mission by actively sponsoring exchange programs, Fulbright Scholarships, and Sister City relationships that bring Americans to France and French to the United States.
How do you think the French view President Obama, and vice versa for Americans’ opinion of President Sarkozy?
According to the opinion polls, 80 percent of French support President Obama, and 77 percent of French now have favorable opinions of the United States. Similarly, most Americans have a very positive opinion of President Sarkozy, whose addresses in the United States have been warmly welcomed.
Does the US Embassy keep up regular contact with all of the major French political parties?
Yes, this is our practice worldwide.
What do you like most about France?
The people! French people are among the most hospitable people I have ever met. French people have strong personalities and opinions, which ensures stimulating conversations and exchanges.
If students are interested in diplomatic careers, what advice would you give them?
My advice would be to learn a language and spend some time abroad to ensure that you would enjoy a career abroad. Studying international affairs is important, but there are terrific careers abroad for economists, health professionals, managers, IT specialists, and professionals of almost every stripe. “Diplomacy” now encompasses almost every profession, specialty or walk of life.
You have had a very successful business career. What advice would you give entrepreneurs in this economy, and what do you think of French efforts to boost entrepreneurship?
Recessions are undoubtedly tough for businesses, but the fact is that businesses that start in recessions, with good ideas, a well-thought business plan, and financing, are much more likely to succeed than those that start in more prosperous times when it may only be possible to make sales as long as the good times last. French and American entrepreneurs are alive and well. Efforts to improve training and make available financing are two very important elements of any effort to boost entrepreneurship.