ANALYSIS / At Paris summit, Assad has all the answers to Mideast conflict
Washington watched with frustration how its policy of sanctions against Syria was taking a nosedive.
PARIS - Ehud Olmert did everything possible to transmit the message of business as usual on Sunday at the Union for the Mediterranean conference, seeming at least outwardly to be ignoring the intensifying investigation against him at home.
Some people would even call it disconnecting. His mood can be gauged from the monologue he delivered Sunday morning at the press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"There could not be a more beautiful day in a more beautiful city in a friendlier country," he said. But at that same event, one could see that Olmert had lost his concentration a bit when he called the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia, "Mahmoud Ala." He later apologized and gave Qureia a long embrace.
Beyond the warmth of the Parisian sun, Olmert was showered with embraces from quite a few leaders - from Sarkozy, Abbas and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. They are all aware of his situation, but are careful about his dignity.
Olmert's foreign minister told reporters at the conference that the police were not exaggerating. "I did not need the latest affair to determine my position," Livni told reporters. "As you all know, we are taking action on the matter, and change is already underway."
On the plane to Paris, the two sat on opposite sides of business class. Olmert did not meet Syrian President Bashar Assad, who left the hall a while before Olmert's speech to avoid an embarrassment. Olmert's feelings were not hurt. His inner circle says he is completely satisfied with Israel's actions vis-a-vis Syria, although it is not certain he will be the one to see them through.
"If I wouldn't be pushing it, we would have had a hot summer in the North, and who would have thought about conferences in Paris?" aides quoted Olmert as saying. "I did not do this to get votes, but because I felt responsibility."
A few hundred meters away, a new star was born: Assad. He was the man with all the answers to regional conflicts. He solved the Lebanese conflict at the last minute; Hamas and Islamic Jihad are his guests and therefore are subservient to the well-known rules of hospitality. In the peace process with Israel he is considered the good guy.
France had fully renewed relations with Assad, and Washington watched with frustration how its policy of sanctions against Syria was taking a nosedive.
No wonder Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem was very happy, even though he looked drawn and pale. Every half hour he came down the elevator with one high-level visitor to Assad, and took another one up. Cypriot President Demetris Christofias was there, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon disappeared into Assad's room and came out smiling embarrassedly a while later.
"Did you see Terje Larsen's face?" a member of the Syrian delegation asked a Haaretz reporter. "When he went in it was white and when he came out it was red. He must have gotten an earful from Assad."
Terje Roed-Larsen, responsible for implementing UN Resolution 1559 calling on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, said some angry things about the peace process with Assad, which he saw as giving in to terror. Larsen is frustrated but his boss is happy.
Then came Assad's press conference. Things went fine in the elevator. The Syrian security detail was not quite together and allowed an Israeli reporter to reach the floor where the briefing was taking place. The cream of the Lebanese and Syrian press corps was wandering around waiting for Assad. No one fled when they heard the words "Israeli journalist."
A few years ago Syrian journalists would clam up or leave; this time, it was as if peace had already broken out. But the Syrian security men had not heard about it.
A short time later one of them "with all due respect" asked the reporter to leave. "This is only for Syrian journalists," he said. To the retort that Lebanese journalists were present, he responded: "Syria and Lebanon are one country."
He had apparently not heard Assad's announcement that a Syrian embassy was to open in Lebanon.