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There is something about the French that rubs George Bush the wrong way.

He tries not to show it, but in the White House there's a continuing wariness about what kind of tricks the French might try to pull.Throughout the gulf war, White House aides held their breath that the French would not bolt from the coalition or somehow diminish its effectiveness.

At every meeting of heads of government Bush has attended, he has had a problem with French President Francois Mitterrand.

At the signing ceremony in Paris last November marking the end of the Cold War, the French pressed for a North-South conference of the have and have-not nations. Bush opposed it and won.

Now, miffed that the United States is in ascendancy because of its decisive victory over Iraq, Mitterrand is pushing for a meeting of the members of the United Nation's Security Council to determine how to handle the war's aftermath.

In Ottawa, on his way here to meet with Mitterrand and thank him for his support in the Persian Gulf, Bush was asked what he will do if the French continue to insist on dealing with the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of Palestinians who want a homeland.

Bush, who says the PLO has lost its credibility by "overzealously" supporting Saddam Hussein, showed a tiny trace of irritation.

"I'm anxious to ask him that," Bush said. "I wouldn't expect to find that President Mitterrand was elated about the performance of Yasser Arafat because France stood with this coalition early on. Lots of pressures at times mounting at home, and solid as a rock, also."

In fact, Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney talked at length about what to do about Mitterrand, who is also seeking an international peace conference to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bush thinks the time isn't right for such a conference. He'd like to build consensus for a plan before such a conference if Mitterrand will hold back.

But he added that he and Mulroney "have great respect for his (Mitterrand's) knowledge of the Middle East."

While Bush has spent his presidency building personal relationships, even friendships, with leaders around the world, he has found it hard to get behind Mitterrand's aloof, stuffy exterior.

Bush invited Mitterrand, who does not like to visit the United States, and his wife to Kennebunkport, Maine, early in his presidency when all the leaders were en route to the U.N.

When Bush asked Mitterrand to join him him for a fast ride along the Maine coast in his pride and joy, his boat Fidelity, Mitterrand smiled wanly and declined.

The Bushes have been to Paris twice since he became president, but Mitterrand has not gone to Washington to see him. For protocol's sake, they met a year ago in Key Largo, Fla., where they held a lengthy press conference in the sun. Mitterrand's long-winded answers in French obviously bored even Bush.

Their meeting Thursday was held in Martinique because it is French soil. Thus Mitterrand could play his favored role of host and, in effect, take charge.

Bush, coming from snow-covered Ottawa, was wearing winter woolies when he landed in this sun-dappled tropical island. The two men went into a bungalow on a sugar plantation to change.

Bush came out in a blue work shirt and khaki pants. The portly Mitterrand came out in a 1960s-style leisure suit, buttoned to the neck.

Bush started to smile, caught himself and grasped the shorter man's hand for yet another handshake for the cameras, the last refuge for politicians who don't see eye to eye.