Viewing cable 07PARIS4685, YOUR DECEMBER 16-18 VISIT TO FRANCE
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|07PARIS4685||2007-12-11 15:03||2010-11-29 12:12||SECRET||Embassy Paris|
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 004685 SIPDIS SIPDIS FOR THE SECRETARY FROM AMBASSADOR CRAIG STAPLETON E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/10/2017 TAGS: OVIP PREL PGOV PINR KPAL EU FR LG SY IS IR SUBJECT: YOUR DECEMBER 16-18 VISIT TO FRANCE PARIS 00004685 001.2 OF 004 Classified By: Ambassador Craig R. Stapleton, for reasons 1.5 (b) and ( d) SUMMARY ------- ¶1. (C) That the first international follow-on to Annapolis is taking place in Paris reflects the new confidence and greater cooperation that characterize our relationship with France seven months into the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. France's support for our efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East contrasts sharply with its previous preferred role as a side-line critic. It is just one example of the broader re-positioning of France vis-a-vis the U.S. which we have been quick to recognize and take advantage of. Sarkozy's desire to maximize France's influence by working with the U.S. to address common challenges is the international component of a larger ambition for his five-year Presidency: to renew France though deep reform at home and resumption of its leadership in Europe. With an exceptionally long political honeymoon behind him, Sarkozy is now pressing ahead with his domestic reform agenda. He has met with predictable opposition (most dramatically in the form of transport strikes), and some questioning among political allies of his strategy of undertaking sequential, calibrated reform rather than a Thatcherite big bang at the outset of his term. Despite the difficulty of the challenge, including an unsettled international economic context, and little budgetary room for maneuver, Sarkozy remains determined to see his program through. Given his dominant political position, that remains a realistic prospect. An activist on the international scene, with an opportunistic eye for grabbing attention and credit, Sarkozy will remain a challenging partner despite his desire to improve the bilateral relationship. He has concentrated responsibility for foreign affairs in the Presidency to an unprecedented degree, while Foreign Minister Kouchner has focused on selected policy issues. This message also addresses the specifics of France's Middle East policies. While under Sarkozy the French are more supportive, our collaboration (and intra-GOF coordination) on Lebanon has of late not been as close as it should be, as Sarkozy's team in the Elysee has focused single-mindedly on electing a President while squeezing the democratically-elected majority and weakening its ability to deal with post-election challenges. End Summary THE RELATIONSHIP ---------------- ¶2. (C) Madame Secretary, The seven months since Nicolas Sarkozy became President of France -- and the six months since your last visit -- has been a remarkable period in three respects. First, our relationship with France has undergone a significant qualitative change. Sarkozy has set in place a new paradigm for French foreign policy, one more favorable to our interests. Scrapping Chirac's worldview, which equated French leadership with containing U.S. hegemony, Sarkozy has articulated the need for France to work closely with the U.S. -- in order to address common challenges, but also as the surest way to increase France's global influence. France's increased involvement in and commitment to Afghanistan, the beginning of a French interest in Iraq, and France's consideration of a full return to NATO, are the most symbolically powerful examples of France's policy reorientation. Second, we have ratcheted up our cooperation with France across our foreign policy agenda, particularly on Middle East issues, but also on Kosovo, Burma, Sudan/Darfur and elsewhere. In Lebanon, Sarkozy's more activist foreign policy has already put the new cooperative relationship to the test. Third, over the past seven months, Sarkozy has begun to implement the ambitious platform of domestic reform he had promised as a candidate. SARKOZY ------- ¶3. (C) Before addressing the Middle East issues that will be the focus of your visit here, a word on the domestic context. Sarkozy enjoyed an exceptionally long political honeymoon, one which extended well into the Fall. His election -- representing the victory of a new-generation leader, one with unmatched communication skills and a detailed and ambitious program for renewing France -- led to a season of national elan and optimism. The return to normal PARIS 00004685 002.2 OF 004 in the political life of the country over the past two months was predictable, as Sarkozy's efforts to implement difficult domestic changes have run into opposition from those -- such as rail workers -- who stand to lose, and many others who fear change of any kind. Sarkozy has disappointed some in his own camp for not immediately embarking on radical, deep-rooted, pervasive reform, taking advantage of his electoral mandate. Instead, Sarkozy has decided to carefully pick his battles, gaining momentum from each piecemeal victory. All in all, Sarkozy remains in a politically powerful position, operating as the hands-on leader of a largely unchecked executive branch, unencumbered for now by a political opposition worthy of the name. He is determined to make his mark during his five year term (which he insists may be his single term of office), but has demonstrated greater caution than might have been expected, mindful of the international economic and financial environment, and severe budgetary constraints at home. KOUCHNER -------- ¶4. (C) Sarkozy's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was the prize catch in Sarkozy's opportunistic effort to appoint figures of the center and center-left to his government, thereby increasing its legitimacy and political heft (and depleting that of the opposition) as he waged the domestic reform battle. While rumors circulate of a cabinet re-shuffle early in the new year or following municipal elections in March, Kouchner's position appears secure for now. (Defense Minister Morin and Interior Minister Alliot-Marie are among those thought most imperiled.) He enjoys a personal chemistry with the President based on Sarkozy's long-time admiration of Kouchner's personal and political courage and humanitarian accomplishments. Kouchner remains very popular -- consistently scoring at or near the top of the polls measuring the popularity of France's political leaders. But even his star quality (that he alone in the government can claim) has not kept him from being eclipsed by his hyper-active and media-savvy president. Surely more of a concern to Kouchner, Sarkozy has concentrated foreign policy decision-making and implementation to an unprecedented degree in the Elysee, with Secretary-General Claude Gueant and Diplomatic Advisor SIPDIS Jean-David Levitte accruing as much if not more influence than Kouchner. Kouchner has largely focused on the issues with which he has the greatest experience and level of comfort -- Lebanon, Kosovo, and Darfur among them. While he has of late curbed his penchant for off-the-cuff, undiplomatic public comments, the thin-skinned Kouchner has shown irritation over the involvement of Elysee officials in the delicate negotiations over Lebanon's presidential elections, and he may be uncomfortable with Sarkozy's increasing willingness to downgrade human rights considerations in his dealings foreign leaders, as demonstrated by the way he has kept his distance from the ongoing five-day visit to Paris of Mu'ammar Qadhafi. Middle East ----------- ¶5. (S) Under Sarkozy, France's Middle East policies have become more supportive of and congruent with U.S. interests, but we are concerned that in the past few weeks our collaboration (and intra-GOF coordination) on Lebanon has not been what it should be, as Sarkozy's Presidency team has focused single-mindedly on electing a President in such a way that squeezes the democratically-elected majority and weakens its ability to deal with post-election challenges. --Arab/Israeli peace: The French remain major supporters of our efforts focused on supporting the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations. Their eagerness to make Annapolis a success and to host the Paris conference on assistance to the Palestinians underscored this. Sarkozy and Kouchner both want France to be a key player in what they hope will be a strong and successful push in 2008 to the creation of a Palestinian state. In many ways, France aspires to be a favored additional partner to the Quartet. Syrian participation at Annapolis has also sparked hopeful commentary in the French media that a larger dynamic -- in which France can participate -- is underway that inter alia would foster an unraveling of the Syrian/Iranian relationship and halt Iranian inroads through support of Hizballah in Lebanon. Sarkozy and Kouchner will listen attentively to any PARIS 00004685 003.2 OF 004 vision you may outline of how you expect the negotiations to unfold and whether there is a reasonable expectation of them broadening to include Syria. --Lebanon: Even as the French have become a positive force behind our efforts on behalf of Arab-Israeli peace, the close collaboration with the GOF under former President Chirac, with his single-minded focus on supporting Saad Hariri and isolating Syria, has suffered. This is partly due to the extremely fluid situation in Lebanon. But it also results from the tug of war between Kouchner and the Elysee over who is in charge of the issue, one that developed after it became clear the deadline for electing a new president would pass without a new candidate chosen. There is abundant evidence that the Syrians, possibly with help from the Amir of Qatar (a friend of Sarkozy and President Bashar al-Asad), lured the Elysee into leading a process with far different objectives than the one Kouchner began last summer. Whereas Kouchner was focused on helping the Lebanese get out of their political deadlock, Levitte and the Elysee have sought a resolution of the presidential crisis that would satisfy larger geopolitical aims involving Syria. It is also clear to us that the Elysee, given Sarkozy,s obsession with achieving results, is focused on electing a president so that it can be considered another French diplomatic triumph. The unfortunate net result continues to be the impression that French pressure for a deal falls exclusively on the March 14 majority and not where it belongs -- on the March 8 opposition that is acting in close coordination with Syria intent on wringing key concessions from the democratically elected majority. Even if the presidential crisis is resolved by December 17, we would recommend that you discuss with Kouchner and Sarkozy how we can more effectively work together as we address the multitude of difficult challenges facing Lebanon, of which the Presidential election is only the first. --Iran: The public release of the recent NIE on Iranian nuclear capabilities was a shock to all but the highest levels of the GOF, which was briefed on its conclusions. Although the French have publicly backed our view that Iran continues to pose a serious threat and further international sanctions are warranted (a line echoed in most of the French press), the GOF anticipates a major "communication problem" with its EU partners, the Iranians, China, and Russia. There is further the delicate diplomacy France is undertaking with different elements in the Iranian regime in order to maintain a viable channel that bypasses President Ahmadinejad (who appeared to complain about this in a recent letter to Sarkozy). In geostrategic terms, the French see Iran as the primary threat to the Middle East and worry about inroads it has made in Lebanon and Iraq. As noted above, there is also some thinking, at least among analysts outside the GOF, that Annapolis and the NIE betoken a significant shift of U.S. strategy in the Bush Administration's last year that involves new U.S. thinking about Iran. Sarkozy and Kouchner would welcome anything you could share with respect to how we regard Iran in a post-Annapolis Middle East. --Iraq: French follow-up to Kouchner's visit to Baghdad last August and Iraqi President Talabani's subsequent visit to Paris has been slow. Concern about the security situation, despite what the French acknowledge to be marginal improvements in some areas of Iraq, lack of coordination at the working level among French ministries, and the failure so far to achieve a breakthrough on national reconciliation have slowed or prevented follow-on French engagement. Kouchner, however, did ask SecDef Gates for a list of specific areas in which we thought France could be helpful. We should use that opening to engage the French in a more active dialogue between representatives of our respective interagencies. We recommend that you use the opportunity to inquire about Kouchner's current thinking about French assistance to Iraq and let him know we would like to send an interagency team to Paris early in the New Year to begin these discussions. We would further recommend that you ask Kouchner about his efforts to rally EU support for and to promote meaningful engagement with the Iraqi government. You might also praise his personal commitment to Iraq's success, as demonstrated in part by his participation in the recent Istanbul summit. We understand Kouchner may next visit Iraq in February when France is expected to open an embassy office in Irbil. PARIS 00004685 004.2 OF 004 Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm STAPLETON