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reflections

Dec 5, 2007 | 03:00 GMT

3 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: What's French for 'Hoodwinked'?

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
The impact of the Dec. 3 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) continued to reverberate around the world on Tuesday as the possibility of a U.S.-Iranian detente and the nonexistence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program sank in. Israel is nervous, Syria senses opportunity and Russia is quietly terrified. However, another case — that of France — is more complex. Freshman French President Nicolas Sarkozy's attitude toward the United States is night-and-day different from that of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy already has held powwows with U.S. President George W. Bush and shouted the evils of Iran from the rooftops, serving as the nerve center for mobilizing all things European against Tehran. Without Sarkozy's extreme diligence, it is highly unlikely that European resistance to sanctions against Iran ever would have been broken. And now the Americans are saying that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program for four years. If Sarkozy had not been informed in advance of the U.S. plan that now is being implemented, we bet he would be hopping mad. Our suspicion, however, is that Sarkozy instead is feeling smugly clever. The French president's role in this whole process has hardly been limited to going door to door in Europe or making speeches at the United Nations. French diplomats have been up to their eyeballs in deals across the Middle East. For example, without firm and creative French intervention, Syria likely would not have gotten its way on the issue of the Lebanese presidency, and hence not felt the need to tilt in a productive direction regarding ongoing U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Of course, the biggest reason why we think Sarkozy has been in on Washington's plot for weeks is the most simple: Since the NIE was released, Paris has not changed its tune one note; there is no shock, no surprise, and the French Foreign Ministry has only intensified its calls for more sanctions. If anything, only one change has taken place: In their communications, the French now sound just a bit more pleased with themselves. The same likely cannot be said for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany is the European power that does the most business with Iran. (Germany exported some $4 billion in goods there in 2006.) Without a tougher line from Germany, a fractured European position likely would not have been sufficient enough to shape the Iranian position. It was Sarkozy who played the critical role in convincing Merkel to cave, and the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon was the keystone of that argument. The odds are that everything will eventually work out. A meaningful U.S.-Iranian understanding would allow Iran's trade with the outside world — especially Germany — to surge anew. But that is likely to only partially remove the bad taste in Merkel's mouth.

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