President Bush has chosen Craig Stapleton (search), a cousin by marriage and top campaign fund-raiser, to be the next U.S. ambassador to France, the White House said Tuesday.

If the Senate confirms Stapleton, a Democrat, he will get the plum post in Paris after serving earlier in the Bush administration as ambassador to the Czech Republic (search).

The mission would make Stapleton the top diplomat in a European ally that has had rocky relations with the United States in recent years, most notably over the Iraq war that France opposed.

Stapleton, whose wife, Debbie, is the president's cousin, was the U.S. ambassador in Prague from August 2001 to January 2004, when he returned to his home in Greenwich, Conn., to help Bush's successful re-election campaign. Stapleton and his wife were among the top fund-raisers for Bush in both the 2000 and 2004 election cycles.

The former New York real estate executive served on the Peace Corps (search) board of directors when Bush's father was president. He also was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

He replaces Ambassador Howard Leach (search), who took a parting shot at French President Jacques Chirac (search) as he prepared to leave Paris. Leach told reporters Tuesday that Chirac had a sudden and still-unexplained change of heart in the lead-up to the Iraq war and actively worked against U.S. interests.

"All of a sudden for France to change when you thought you were working together ... was a complete surprise," he said. "That surprise certainly added to the feeling of hurt and anger on the part of the United States."

Relations between the two countries, however, have improved greatly, Leach said. Chirac will probably visit the United States in the fall.