After French President Jacques Chirac was chosen for another term last May, it was said that the paralysis that characterized French foreign policy during the "cohabitation" (the forced partnership with the Socialist Party) no longer had an alibi. Now, all government power was concentrated in the Elysee Palace, and therefore Chirac could navigate the French ship of state as he desired.
In fact, to paraphrase the "Marseillaise," to many Frenchman, half a year after the beginning of Chirac's second term, the "day of glory" has again arrived. After many years of frustration at the erosion in its status, France has recently succeeded in entrenching itself in the international diplomatic arena, and has become a player that is hard to ignore. This was evident both in the latest European Union summit in Brussels, where Chirac was revealed as the dominant player today in the European arena, and in the discussions held at the United Nations on Iraq.
In the French view, two months of complex and sometimes tense negotiations have left the hawks of the U.S. Administration with only half of what they wanted: The adoption of the American compromise resolution this past weekend in the UN Security Council is to a large extent a victory of French policy, which determinedly pressed for action within the legal context of the UN and firmly opposed any bypassing, unilateral move by the United States. "We are not fighting against the war in Iraq, but against the war without the UN, "was the guideline of French diplomacy.
With the help of this guideline, France has reaped important successes: First, it has succeeded in shifting the center of gravity of the resolution from bringing down the regime in Baghdad to dismantling the weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, those articles in the resolution defined as "provocative" and seen as designed to cause the weapons inspectors' mission to fail in advance were removed.
Above all, Paris is proud of its success in enlisting wall-to-wall international support for what has become its basic slogan: the two-tiered approach.
Chirac presented this approach as the only proper alternative to the American concept of a preemptive strike."
During the first stage, the UN was to adopt a resolution to renew the work of the weapons inspectors, as a last warning to Baghdad. During the second stage, and in order to prevent what France calls "the automatic quality of the attack," it demanded there be another debate in the Security Council in case Iraq causes the inspections to fail, or if it turns out that Iraq really does have weapons of mass destruction.
France has not succeeded in guaranteeing that the Security Council will adopt another resolution before military force is used against Iraq; the Security Council debates during the second stage will be only "advisory." It also failed in its attempt to ensure that the inspectors will have sole authority to determine whether Iraq is not fulfilling its international commitments. Nevertheless, in the present situation, the compromise resolution is seen as an important victory of international law over unilateralism, and as an achievement - at least in terms of image - for France, which actually stood almost alone against the only world power, at a time when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was seen as irrelevant, whereas Russia and China were to a large extent functioning as secondary players.
Chirac, released from the bonds of the "cohabitation" government, and with the corruption issues that had stained his reputation behind him, and with a solid majority in both houses of Parliament and a symbiotic relationship with his foreign minister (Dominique de Villepin), has also managed to exploit fully the international situation, i.e. the differences of opinion in the U.S. administration and the isolation in which Germany finds itself as a result of its extreme opposition to any action in Iraq - with or without the approval of the UN.
Between German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has removed himself from the Western consensus, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is seen as an "American satellite," Europe has only one leader, who is suddenly seen as original and pragmatic as well as determined.
Will all this have implications for the Middle East as well? In Jerusalem, they are saying that while they can hear a positive tone toward Israel since the change of government at the Quai d'Orsay, and that even in Paris there has been a significant erosion in PA Chairman Arafat's status, France's foreign policy in our region has not changed substantially.
France gave a hint of that recently, when it transmitted to Israel comments regarding the "road map" drawn up by the Bush Administration, and when it independently sent experts to examine the issue of the pumping of water from the Wazzani River by the Lebanese. It's no wonder, then, that Israel's Foreign Ministry is expressing satisfaction at the fact that French is now preoccupied in other arenas, and that the new assertiveness that characterizes its foreign policy has not yet reached its full expression in the Middle East as well.
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