Friday, May 10, 2013

Le Figaro: "The spectacular French turnaround on Syria"

** are Smorgasbord material
"... (translated): Those who closely follow the Syrian file will still be a little surprised to hear Mr. Fabius ensure that Paris has always favored the diplomatic option. For two years, the main weakness of the French position was to clearly not choose between diplomacy and weapons in Syria, believed that the "regime's days were numbered**," according to a formula, which is not the prerogative admittedly the Quai d'Orsay. This risky prediction was not that of  our ambassador to Damascus Eric Chevallier who wrote telegrams dated in the early months of the revolt that the regime was still too strong to fall, while in Paris his minister Alain Juppe, was insisting that the "days of Bashar al-Assad were numbered**." A malfunction on which historians may look back someday.
Quickly condemning Assad to appear before an international tribunal**, France - it was always Alain Juppe in February 2012 - will cut any opportunity to influence - to the extent of its weight - in a diplomatic process to come. "We were however well placed," laments a former diplomat in Damascus which recalls the  Franco-Syrian 
honeymoon between 2008 and 2010.
In Europe, France was with Britain arming the rebels, so we were told, to restore the balance of forces unfavorable to the insurgents. An ad that has fizzled because of warnings from the Ministry of Defense, among others. To the chagrin of insurgents disarmed, hoping in French promises and now taking refuge with jihadists al-Nosra group.
On the other hand, hear Fabius be a champion of Geneva II appears again at least surprising. On Geneva I as it opened the door to a negotiated transition, Paris never ceased to repeat that this agreement could not be applied unless Assad left power at the outset of the transition. Something opposed by Moscow, relying on the same terms of the arrangement. Geneva I was thus blocked.
"But Geneva is the past**," we heard last summer in Paris, after the attack that claimed the lives of four senior Syrian officials, including General Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother.
Then a few weeks later, they swore us that the first helicopters regime killed by the rebels, "we witnessed an acceleration of history.**" In short, as yet supported in the fall Fabius, the regime would fall - this time - in "a few weeks**". It was useless to argue for a diplomatic solution. Especially in parallel, under strong diplomatic and financial pressures Qatari our allies, we somehow managed to rally opposition to a "National Coalition" that France was the first to recognize. Unlike the United States which, pragmatic, saw quickly that the Coalition would explode under the same contradictions as the Syrian National Council, which had preceded: one infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood structure. Which fueled internal divisions, and eventually led to the resignation of its chief Moaz al-Khatib who is about to create a new political force with other opponents, less Islamists as a counterweight to a Coalition moribund.
But the Coalition is as much the baby of France than Qatar and Turkey. Aware of its shortcomings, the United States and Russia have decided to personally invite opponents at their conference in Geneva. This means that the Coalition has almost lost its title of representative of the opposition. Paris - says still Fabius - fervently hope that this opposition widens. Surprise again: for nearly two years, France has placed all her eggs in a single basket, the CNS and the Coalition, refusing to commit a substantial dialogue with other opponents - ........  But those will also be invited to Geneva.
To jump on the bandwagon & take a back seat to 'Geneva', France seeks to restore her virginity on the Syrian issue. And to provide security to its American and Russian partners, Paris took the opportunity to announce that it will, five months after Washington, propose to list Jabhat al Nosra linked to Al Qaeda, on the list of terrorist organizations.
The move will be welcomed by the Russian, American and UN diplomats .....  "France is the big loser of the international conference," said one of them. "The turnaround is dramatic." But as short-term outcomes of that conference is somewhat uncertain, France will still have the opportunity to change course ..."

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