Saturday, November 10, 2007
Common wisdom has it that Syrian agents were responsible for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005. Hariri was a close personal friend of Jacques Chirac, so France's relations with Syria grew cold, as in just this side of permafrost, as a result. So it raised some eyebrows last week when Nicolas Sarkozy dispatched two close advisors to Damascus to discuss ways to resolve the deadlock in choosing Lebanon's next president.
Today, Le Monde offers something of an explanation (for French readers, anyway). One of Syria's principal allies is Qatar, whose Emir advocates ending its regional isolation and defends its interests at the UN. (His position is conspicuously at odds with that of the Saudis, who consider Bashar Assad untrustworthy.) The same Emir of Qatar was influential in helping Sarkozy obtain the release of the Bulgarian nurses from Libya's Muammar Khaddafi (although the promise of weapons and a civil nuclear reactor probably helped also). And Qatar has not only placed orders for 80 Airbus A380's, they've also been extraordinarily understanding about the repeated production and delivery delays that have cost the French industrial giant quite a few contracts. (Both UPS and FedEx eventually cancelled their orders for the freight version.)
Sarkozy himself has forcefully condemned the use of violence to interfere in Lebanese internal affairs, even if he has refrained from directly accusing Syria of being behind the assassinations. But it's worth watching how France's posture towards Syria evolves. French influence in Lebanon is something Paris has to offer in its dealings with Washington. And if it does manage to thaw relations with Damascus, it could wind up serving as a backchannel for American diplomatic overtures.