Thursday, August 03, 2006

France's Diplomatic Role in Middle-East Conflict.

This blog is not shy of criticizing both France and the US in their foreign policy and clearly French president Chirac has been a favorite (and well-deserved) target of ours, (see here or here) but whenever he deserves some credit, we should also post about it. It seems that the French have taken some very interesting positions with regard to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
France has been really working hard at being the broker in the conflict. This should not be a surprise as France has not only historic ties to the region (following WWI, the region - including Syria and Lebanon -was under French mandate until 1940
) but it has also continued to maintain an important network of contacts throughout the region and most of all, it has some precious political capital in the Arab world :
France has been at the vanguard of countries demanding action to compensate for dangerous inaction that could cause th conflict to escalate. France is lobbying for an immediate ceasefire, followed by a political deal between the warring parties and deployment of an international stabilisation force.
The tools for this initiative are France's contacts with the key players and a fund of goodwill that it has patiently built up in Muslim countries. Both are assets that the Americans, seen scathingly in the Middle East as a one-sided ally of Israel, do not have.
There may even be a chance that a multinational force might work things out since there seems to be a strong recognition of past mistakes and the desire to avoid repeating them (Rwanda is probably a good case in point) which is why I find the words of the French Defense Minister quite sensible (for once):
The French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said the troops must have the right to use force when necessary to avoid the mistakes of previous United Nations-backed missions.
“It must be a very large international force with very precise missions,” Ms. Alliot-Marie said in an interview published Tuesday in Le Monde.
“It must be well armed, have substantial firepower and armor,” she said. “It must be credible and capable of making itself respected by everyone.” (NYTimes)
Also France has committed to send the largest number of troops, under those conditions.
It is also quite clear that the only way things can work out is if the u.S. and France both work together at achieveing the same goal. After all, it is a Franco-American initiative at the UN in 2004 that forced the Syrians out of Lebanon. (which made Paris win a lot of points with the Bush administration).

The only criticism I would have of Chirac's policy in the region right now is that while France has had contacts with Iranian officials, they shun Syria, which I think, is a bad idea:
France’s diplomatic strategy is a clear break with the EU, which believes that Syria can be part of the solution. The EU’s High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Javier Salona is quoted in Le Figaro as saying that “Even though I have not visited Damascus recently, I stay in contact with Syrian authorities… there is no disconnect.” The article notes that German and British diplomats are of the same mind, believing that Syria is “key to resolving this conflict,” further noting that Paris’ boycott of Damascus caught Brussels off-guard, causing some to question how France could play a lead role and maintain its current course. (source here)
The reason is that Chirac was a close friend of Rafik Harri, the former Prime minister of Labanon who was assassinated by what is believed to be the Syrians, and it remains fascinating how personal stories can dictate political strategy for a whole nation. That clearly should not be the case in the present situation.

Of course, the other reason why Chirac has been acting so swiftly is also domestic. France has the largest Muslim, Arab and Jewish communities in Europe and it seems that the diplomatic frenzy in trying to find a solution is paying off - at least for now.

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