World News

France plays down reported rift with U.S. over Haiti

PARIS (Reuters) - France played down on Tuesday reports of a rift with the United States over its management of the airport in Haiti since last week’s devastating earthquake, saying cooperation between the two countries was going well.

The reports surfaced after a junior minister, Alain Joyandet, said he had protested to U.S. authorities that a French plane carrying humanitarian aid was prevented from landing at the U.S.-controlled airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

“The French authorities are ... very satisfied with the cooperation between our two countries and beyond that with the permanent coordination between the crisis centres of the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department,” President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said in a statement.

“They welcome the exceptional mobilization of the United States toward Haiti and the essential role it is playing on the ground.”

Haitian officials have said the death toll from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which destroyed much of the capital on Jan 12, was likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000.

With Haiti’s main port out of operation, the huge international relief operation has had to use Port-au-Prince’s congested airport, which has delayed the arrival of urgently needed medical and food supplies.

More than 30 countries have rushed relief to Haiti since the quake, choking the airspace and ground facilities at the small airfield, which has only one runway.

The U.S. military has said it is doing its best to get as many planes as possible into Port-au-Prince.

“This is not the time to talk about a few misunderstandings,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a speech to journalists. “There are always little quarrels at the time of big catastrophes.”

Joyandet is attached to the foreign ministry.

Reporting by Anna Willard; Editing by Dominic Evans