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Liberation, France, 11/29/2007
Sarkozy’s major faux pas with Syria: serious consequences for Lebanon

I- Overview:
- “We are not Bulgarian nurses”, said Walid Jumblatt [the most prominent leader of the Druze community] in front of a small group of close people, to summarize French policy during the Lebanese presidential election
- what Jumblatt meant was that Sarkozy tried to score points on Lebanon’s back in the name of a diplomacy coup, such as the one that enabled the release of the Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya by Kadhafi

II- Lebanese presidential election: French diplomacy coup:

1- While Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner was in Beirut from November 18 to 22 to find a solution to the crisis that leaves today Lebanon with no president:
- President Sarkozy sent twice to Damascus his close advisors, Jean-David Levitte [diplomatic advisor to Sarkozy] and Claude Guéant [general secretary of the Elysée]
- Their mission: ask President Bashar al-Assad to encourage his Lebanese loyal supporters, including Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, the Parliament president Nabih Berri, and the Christian general Michel Aoun, not to jeopardize the Lebanese presidential ballot
- But such a strategy just does not work with Syria

2- Consequence: an even tougher stance from Syria

3- Hence: the feeling in Beirut, in the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance [majority parliamentary group], that Paris acted as a complete amateur and that Sarkozy “was had” by the Syrian regime

4- The Syrian regime can be satisfied:
It did not concede anything, and it publicly humiliated France in Lebanon, showing at the same time that it was a key partner

5- The French maneuver was harshly criticized, all the more that neither Beirut nor apparently Bernard Kouchner had been informed of the trips to Damascus:
MP and political expert Samir Frangie, one of the brains of the Lebanese majority:
“Not only did France gain nothing from Damascus, no guarantee on the elections, but in Lebanon it [France] clouded the issue. At the beginning, the French initiative was totally different from what it has become.”

6- For Lebanese observers, today’s scenario looks like the one of the 1988 presidential elections, when Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State, also had fallen into Damascus’ trap:
- which resulted in several years of chaos
- It is in that same chaos that Lebanon could fall into again
- If this were to happen, there would be a small consolation: this time around [vs. in 1988 when Syria took over Lebanon], Bernard Kouchner promised to designate the culprits

III- There is another dimension to the French approach: from now on, choosing Damascus over its ally, Tehran:

1- That is the opposite of what Chirac did

2- “This is Europe’s choice: gain back Syria in order to counter Iran” says Frangie:
In other words: try to break the Tehran-Damascus axis, in order to isolate the Islamic regime and put back Syria with the other so-called moderate Arab countries;
the latter worry about the increase in power of Iran, particularly via its nuclear program

3- This is also George W. Bush’s stance, and Syria finally went to the Annapolis peace conference on November 27

4- [Lebanese] MP Elias Atallah, expert on Syria:
“There is a change in French, and even American, policy, which [both] have established a new set of priorities. But our long experience shows that, each time friendly countries try to open up to Damascus, this ends up having a negative impact on Lebanon.
In reality, the relations between the Syrian and Iranian regimes are very deep. They have been allied since 1982. Whoever thinks that he can change Syria’s role is simplistic. Iran and Syria can totally live with their differences. They are minimal. Even about Annapolis, even about the Palestinians“
“You cannot ask Syria to change. You must force them to. Talk to them in a different way. Either this regime is so strong that the pressures are just no use, or the pressures are not strong enough. But the European and Arab countries, and the USA gave carte blanche to France on the Lebanese file, but I just can’t see the increased power that it [France] has acquired”

Translation and summary provided by The Croissant. © Copyright 2020. The Croissant LLC.

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Translation and summary provided by The Croissant. © The Croissant 2007. All rights reserved.