Finally, Frenchmen I Like

Quote of the Day:

Weakness and renunciation do not lead to peace. They lead to war.
     — French President Nicolas Sarkozy to UN General Assembly

The back story:

In mid-September, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was almost Bush-like as he used plain language to warn against a nuclear Tehran, warning the world "to prepare for the worst… and the worst means war". Who would have thought a French diplomat could be so, uh, un-Frenchly plain spoken?

Of course, Kouchner started taking flack immediately. Russian Acting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confronted Kouchner, saying that neither military force nor unilateral sanctions were acceptable in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said sanctions must be given time and a war in the region "wouldn’t resolve the problem and would only create new tragedies and new dangers." (Coincidently, Italy is Iran’s leading trading partner in the EU.)

The head of the French Foreign Affairs Commission declared Kouchner’s statement was "inappropriate and untimely" as there are still many economic sanctions that can be imposed before making dire threats (i.e., there’s a lot of cajoling and appeasement "diplomacy" that can make it look like they’re not total cowards before the stern talk has to start and somebody ends up looking like a "cowboy").

Meanwhile, Middle East pundits are labeling Sarkozy the "new poodle," taking Tony Blair’s place (read the article, it’s actually quite funny).

Last week, Sarkozy went on French television and appeared to back away from the war-drum beating rhetoric of his foreign minister, stating that while a nuclear-armed Iran was "unacceptable", he hoped a mix of negotiations and sanctions would persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions. But he ratcheted up the sanction rhetoric, declaring that if the UN Security Council can’t apply sanctions, then the EU should come up with their own.

The US has been pressing for additional sanctions since June, as the previous UN resolution (demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment) expired in May. So the addition of the French voice to this demand is welcome.

The Economist declares that the French are "palpably impatient" with the Security Council as Russia and China are stalling, supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s agreement with Iran to complete inspections. This plan, by the way, is really just a series of talks that could stretch into December even as Iran adds centrifuges to its Natanz enrichment plant, nearing the 3,000 needed to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel. Nice plan, eh?

Yesterday, Sarkozy gave a long interview to the NYT and IHT, again downplaying the possibility of war. But he again put tough new EU sanctions on the table.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly today, he defiantly declared that Iran would ignore any further UN resolutions. He said that Iran would continue to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency. [Thinking back to the months preceding the liberation of Iraq, I recall my amusement at the IAEA being led around the Iraqi countryside like the Keystone Cops chasing Buster Keaton. No wonder Ahmadinejad wants to work with them.]

When French President Sarkozy addressed the UN General Assembly today, he made a wide-ranging speech, but again stressing the need for action in the form of firm sanctions. While reiterating Iran’s right to nuclear energy (he even offered to help Iran achieve that goal), Sarkozy added there would be no world peace if the international community "shows weakness in the face of the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Newsweek describes recent events as a "revolution in [French] foreign policy that could transform the transatlantic relationship."

What is really playing out is that lines are being drawn in the sand, and they aren’t exactly new lines. Gordon Chang at Contentions says it well:

Russia and China this week have made it clear they will side with Iran until the theocrats announce they have the bomb—all the while saying they are defending the concept of joint action. As Thomas Friedman says, we are entering the post-post-cold-war period. And in that period the West has no choice but to realize that the world’s authoritarian nations are banding together, and Russia and China are undermining the concept of collective security. Whether we like it or not, we are now engaged in a series of global struggles, with neither Beijing nor Moscow on our side.

As for me, I’m starting to like France again. I may even start buying French wine again.

Posted September 25th, 2007 Filed in France, Iran, Middle East Freedom, War on Islamofascism