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Lee Wants ‘French’ Back in Fries

As U.S. diplomats seek international cooperation in rebuilding Iraq, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) thinks the House of Representatives can do its part to help things along — namely by putting the “French” back into the fries and toast served in cafeterias on Capitol Hill.

“We cannot afford not to join the President and the Secretary of State in reaching out to the international community,” Lee wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated last week.

“It is time to restore the air of civility and respect in the House of Representatives. A symbolic start to that effort would be reinstating foods in the House cafeterias and dining halls with their traditional ‘American’ names — French toast and French fries.”

Responding to France’s opposition within the U.N. Security Council to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Capitol Hill eateries in the three House office buildings banned the term “French” from their menus earlier this year at the behest of Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Jones said he decided to back the idea after a fast food restaurant called “Cubbie’s” in his home state did the same thing — but after seven months of serving up “freedom fries” and “freedom toast,” Lee thinks enough is enough.

Lee noted that a White House chef recently admitted that french fries were never taken off the White House menu, and she questioned whether the symbolic gesture on the Hill was doing more harm than good.

“The Administration’s difficulty in earning the trust and cooperation of many of our strongest allies suggests that perhaps it was a mistake to distance ourselves from the world community, through our deeds and rhetoric,” Lee wrote.

Republicans, however, are refusing to budge.

In a telephone interview, Ney said he has no intention of reversing the culinary rebuke of France — especially following French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s suggestion that a United Nations resolution for a U.N.-mandated multinational force under U.S. command in Iraq be contingent upon general elections by spring 2004, a timetable that Bush administration officials say is impossible.

“Maybe Sheila can negotiate with her friend, Jacques Chirac,” Ney said Monday as he lashed out at France’s most recent suggestion before the U.N. Security Council. “She can go on the C-SPAN of France.”

While calling Lee’s request for the return of french fries and french toast “bizarre,” Ney also called into question Lee’s support of the Mujahedin-e Khalq — an Iranian opposition group that has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization — and an affiliated group.

Lee, along with a handful of other Democrats, has defended the group and in June urged French officials to release members of the Iranian opposition — including National Council of Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi — who were imprisoned after a series of self-immolation protests.

Lee and dozens of others in Congress including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) have defended the Mujahedin as a “legitimate resistance movement,” though support for the group — which claims its focus is simply liberating Iran from the mullahs.

But widespread support has waned in recent days amid reports that Mujahedin fighters in Baghdad posed a danger to American troops.

Ney, who was an English teacher in Iran in 1978, said freedom fries were a “symbolic” gesture meant to show support for U.S. troops and he doesn’t plan to back down “until there’s a consensus among Members that France is starting to be decent with us.”

As for Lee and the status of french fries, Ney suggested “if she doesn’t like that, she should avoid the cafeteria.”

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