Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kouchner at the Quai

Atmospherics at the Quai d'Orsay, and a brief snippet from an interview with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner about the demise of anti-Americanism. For a fuller version of the video interview segments in English, as well as print excerpts from my hour-long conversation with Kouchner, translated from the French, see:

All the Problems of the World

After his recent visit to Baghdad, French Foreign Minister warns the world that Iraq is a problem everyone must take responsibility for. And he reaffirms France's friendship with the United States.

Columnist Raghida Dergham had an intelligent analysis of Kouchner's intiative, by the way, in a recent issue of Al-Hayat:

A change must come in Iraq, after the US commander there, David Petraeus, and the US Ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, submit a key report next month on evaluating the results of the US force surge this year, and on the political and security conditions inside Iraq. This change will not be a purely American one; there are indications that it will also be domestic, regional and international. Expressions of frustration and disappointment in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are not transitory, but a sign of the direction inside Iraq toward changing the Prime Minister, if al-Maliki doesn't produce solutions for the domestic political crises, which result from sectarian ways of thinking. The government's performance has become a dangerous obstacle, not just in the American assessment, but also according to an Iraqi evaluation, both inside and outside the government. Thus, Nouri al-Maliki will not be helped by visits to Turkey, Iran and Syria, in which he acts as if he is solving problems with the outside world, while the true crisis is domestic. Also, the timing and content of his visit to Damascus hurt him, since the visit came a few days after the random murder of hundreds of people near the Iraqi-Syrian border, in attacks using truck bombs. High-level Iraqi sources say the trucks came from Syria. These sources say that during his visit, al-Maliki only received expressions of fraternal ties and security cooperation, without guarantees, and no readiness by the Syrian regime to leave behind its basic strategy, i.e. preserving its various "cards." The more important visit was by the French Foreign Minister to Baghdad, since it marked a qualitative transformation in French policy toward Iraq, and because it expressed the new European position, which should encourage wider and deeper Arab roles in Iraq. It should also suggest to Russia to engage in another type of thinking. The door has been opened to see the issue of Iraq move from anger, objections and gloating about the negative outcomes to a new, qualitative discussion about what to do now. Certainly, the foreign minister's visit will be followed by visits to Baghdad by European ministers and officials, while leading Arab countries will enhance their diplomatic and political moves toward Iraq. This is necessary, since the autumn will see an important chapter in the future of Iraq, one that requires regional and international participation of a new, unaccustomed-to level of seriousness.

The change in the French policy has implications that go beyond the Baghdad-Paris bilateral relationship. The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, now wants a partnership with US President George W Bush in dealing with the Iraqi issue. The previous French government put a distance between itself and Washington, not just during the fundamental dispute over the soundness of the Iraq war, but also during the period of requests for rescue from its predicament. Despite the considerable improvement in Franco-American relations in the last two years, close cooperation has been nearly restricted to Lebanon, and has not improved to the point of turning over a new leaf in Iraq.

What helped Sarkozy accelerate the new policy on Iraq is French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's relationship with that country; he has strong friendships with senior figures in the Iraqi government and, in fact, had a history of opposing the Saddam Hussein regime. He also has clear stances on American military action in Iraq, and is not against it.

Another element assisting the qualitative transformation of France's positions is the effort by Iraqi officials, with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari prominent among them, to convince France and get it involved, to constitute a point of departure for the new European policy, and to act as an incentive for countries that opposed the war to adopt a new role in Iraq today. This is in addition to the visit by the French foreign minister to Baghdad, to encourage Arab countries that have taken steps toward re-opening embassies in Baghdad to accelerate these moves, as a form of positive "embarrassment" for these states.

The issue is not merely one of exchanging ambassadors and opening embassies. It involves the orientation of countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt in this direction. It is an important indicator of the degree to which these states are aware of the magnitude of letting Iraq stumble, as its Arab neighbors observe this tragedy take place. The new orientation is very positive in and of itself; to it we can add opening the door to needed regional roles, so that Iraq does not remain prey to its neighbors Iran and Syria alone. The new vision, which has produced repercussions in the last few weeks, has covered the international support to see Iraq make moves toward all of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran. According to those familiar with the initiative, it also covers the "triangle," with Iraq forming its centerpiece, while the US, and France and the UN, form its appendages.

Kouchner took with him to Baghdad a clear vision of France's role in both a European and an international framework. UN Security Council Resolution 1770, which was adopted two weeks ago, talks about expanding the UN's role in Iraq, with prior approval and an invitation from the Iraqi government. The objective of the resolution is to encourage the UN to take up political roles in issues involving a political reconciliation, the Constitution, and strengthening humanitarian roles through assistance and agencies. The importance of this lies in seeing the UN leave behind its restricted role, in Iraq, and in the political approval of countries like Russia and France for an effective role, even though the opposition to the war included France, Germany and Russia. ... (full article)

President Sarkozy makes his first major speech about foreign policy (in French).

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