Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bernard and Ségolène

...and Nicolas, of course. How is French foreign policy developing, now that it is around five months that Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of the Republic and appointed Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister?   In June, as I mentioned in a previous post,  there was some activity regarding Africa.  In mid-July, Kouchner launched an initiative on Lebanon,  inviting leaders from the various factions to a meeting near Paris and planning to go to Beirut himself on the 28th.  Kouchner prepared for this with a visit to Tehran (BBC World Service).

Then, it was Iraq. On 19 August, I noted, "Kouchner in Baghdad!" (This I saw initially on the website, which I had just got around to looking at; when I looked next time a few weeks later, it had gone  subscription-only.)  The French media speculated that Sarkozy had probably informed Bush when they met during Sarkozy's trip to the US and that France might be able to use its influence with Iran. Kouchner later denied that France had received US permission for the visit..

And so it continued, with Kouchner on 28 Aug. giving an interview with Newsweek, writing 'What France can do in Iraq' in The International Herald Tribune (August 26, 2007).

Then it was la rentrée (return of normal political activity) in France. On 11 Sept., I heard part of an interview with Kouchner on Europe 1. On 13 Sept., there was an opportunity to hear a Kouchner interview in English, on the BBC  (details are here). Here he insisted on continuing to talk about Iraq, even when the interviewer tried to move him on to Darfur: "People want to forget about Iraq..." ... "Who wants to forget?" ... "Many people - because they were against the war, as we were, because it is too difficult..." 

Finally, on 19 Sept., he was the morning guest on France Inter, where he had the usual 10 minutes of interview, followed by about 20 minutes of questions from listeners, like he had featured on in 2006, before he was a minister. He made many of the same points on Iraq as he had in the BBC interview: the international community needs to get involved, for example building up the justice system; there had been a UN resolution in early-August; but there was no question of European troops replacing American.

Accused of being in favour of the intervention in Iraq, he of course referred back to the article he wrote shortly before the 2003 war. There he argued for getting rid of Saddam Hussein by peaceful and multilateral methods, "as had just been done in Kosovo". As for the claims that he was pro-war, he says, it is like bells that you pull and it rings for years afterwards (ce sont des sonnettes qu'on accroche et puis ça tintent quelques années après). (*)

It was pointed out that the means used in Kosovo were hardly pacific, since they involved bombardment from the air. But Kouchner was allowed to get away with claiming that they were multilateral. But there was no UN resolution for the intervention in Kosovo either. There were differences: in 1999, it was only the Russian veto that stood in the way; in 2003, there was the French veto as well as the Russian and it was likely that the US and Britain would not even have obtained a majority on the Security Council to gain a moral victory, which as we all know don't count anyway. But of course an action is "multilateral" if France is in agreement with it. Otherwise, not.

Then there was the question of France returning to the integrated command of NATO. Asked whether this would happen as early as before next summer and so under the current US administration, Kouchner replied that it depended on countries like Spain, Germany and Italy taking up a greater share of Europe's defence burden and so was not likely that soon.

Kouchner says that he is in favour of Turkey's entry into the EU, while the President's position is now that he is not in favour of Turkey's entry, but he will not block anything: there are 35 chapters in the negotiations with Turkey, of which 30 are compatible with a partenariat priviligié. So, these 30 will be opened first of all. This development, we are told, is in the context of Sarkozy's desire to "get Europe moving again" with the mini-treaty to reform its institution.

On Friday 21 Sept., France Inter reported in its morning bulletin that,  heckled by protesters in the US concerned about possible war with Iran, Bernard Kouchner replied, "But I agree, stupid."

To be concluded

On 2 Oct., Bernard Kouchner gave another interview, on Europe 1 - speaking about Burma, Iran and, with some vehemence, Rwanda.

Ségolène Royal had just had published in Le Monde an article, Une diplomatie incohérente. Here, as was noted in his interview, she referred to Kouchner only in the form of   - ministre des affaires étrangères - By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy is always 'Nicolas Sarkozy', never 'the president of the Republic'.

She accuses Sarkozy of inconsistency: what the candidate Sarkozy said is different from what President Sarkozy is now saying. On Turkey, he is now closer to the position that she argued for during the campaign.

Ségolène expresses the principle of policy: 'A l'idéologie facile, à l'intérêt étroit, [la France] préférait l'analyse rationnelle des faits...' But, from her criticisms, it is difficult to determine any pattern that would suggest an alternative policy. (The candidate) Sarkozy is said to be too hard on Hezbollah, too soft on Iran; he is getting closer to the US (with regard to Iraq) at a time when even "our British friends" are distancing themselves. (That may be so, but Britain is still closer to the US than France is.)

But in any case, if Britain is moving away from the US, then by implication it is moving closer to France. If the US is now preferring dialogue rather than military force, then it too is moving closer to France. If France, by abandoning its reflex anti-Americanism, is moving closer to the US, all this would be a good thing. Wouldn't it? Unless France's position is so right that it shouldn't be moved from by even one inch. But then, we should be fighting the battles of 2007, not of 2003. 

* A brief extract of the interview can be heard here. I apologize for the poor quality of this, but we're breaking new ground here for this blog, technically speaking.